Peru Judge Denies Bias Allegations

Associated Press -- 19 June 2001

by Rick Vecchio

LIMA, Peru - The presiding judge in Peru's retrial of Lori Berenson denied on Tuesday that his court was biased against the New York native, accused of conspiring with leftist rebels.

On Wednesday, the three-judge panel is widely expected to find Berenson, 31, guilty of helping the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement in a plan to seize Peru's Congress.

The prosecution has asked for 20 years, but the judges can reduce any sentence, and the state' attorney in the case has asked that Berenson be expelled after serving whatever sentence the judges decide on.

Berenson, who denies aiding the guerrillas, is expected to make a final statement Wednesday morning to the judges, who plan to recess for several hours before returning the verdict.

Several times during the three-month trial, judge Marcos Ibazeta openly accused Berenson of being involved with the rebels, but he said such questions are part of Peru's judicial system and do not show a bias.

``Here the presumption of innocence exists and rules, but the system of questioning, the procedural system, is distinct,'' Ibazeta told The Associated Press.

But Berenson, who has denied the ``collaboration'' charges against her, alleged that Ibazeta and the two other judges have violated her right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Berenson, a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology student, admits she rented a house in 1995 used by the rebeles as a hide-out, but denies she knew their real identities.

Berenson was convicted of treason in 1996 by a secret military court and sentenced to life in prison, but after years of pressure from the United States, the verdict was overturned in August and she won a civilian retrial. That trial started March 20.

Berenson's supporters contend the former Massachusetts Institute of Technology student has been tried for her beliefs, not her actions.

Berenson's mother, Rhoda, who has been attending the trial, likened her daughter's retrial to the Spanish Inquisition. ``Whether she denounces or doesn't denounce a group of people has absolutely nothing to do with this trial,'' she said Tuesday.

``We want you to denounce what you believe and we also want you to point a guilty finger at others. That's what the Inquisition was and that's what one of the problems with the Peruvian system still is,'' the mother said.