Peru opens door to pardon or amnesty for American leftist

The Washington Times -- 26 February 2001

by Natalia Mielczarek

American leftist Lori Berenson could be eligible for an amnesty or pardon even if she is convicted at her second trial on terrorism charges early next month, Peru's justice minister said in Washington.

Diego Garcia Sayan told reporters during a visit late last week that his government would not interfere in the retrial of Miss Berenson, who has been jailed in Peru since 1996 on charges of collaborating with Tupac Amaru guerrillas.

But, he said, even if she is convicted, there are ways in which she might be eligible to regain her freedom.

She could be granted amnesty, but only if a request is initiated by the Peruvian Congress, the minister said. She also could be granted a pardon by the president, but that would happen only after a conviction.

Miss Berenson's case "can and should be dealt with in courts, not by the executive power in Peru or any other democratic country," he said.

Mr. Garcia acknowledged that the parents of Miss Berenson, a New York native, had grown impatient with the slow progress in the case of their daughter but denied there had been any effort by the government to delay the proceedings.

Miss Berenson was sentenced to life in prison in 1996 by a military court on charges that she had worked with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement in a plot to take over the Peruvian Congress.

After years of pressure from the United States, a military court overturned her conviction in August and granted a new trial to be held in a civilian court. Superior Court Prosecutor Walter Julian Vivas formally asked last week for the civilian court to give her a 20-year prison term.

Mr. Garcia defended Peru's handling of the case, pointing out that it was not included in a recent list of human rights violations prepared in cooperation with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Mr. Garcia and the commission signed an agreement in Washington on Thursday that identified 258 cases of human rights violations in Peru. About half of them are expected to be resolved, the minister said.