Bush May Discuss Berenson in Peru

The Associated Press -- 13 February 2002

by Nestor Ikeda

WASHINGTON - Peruvian Foreign Minister Diego Garcia Sayan said Wednesday the case of Lori Berenson, an American citizen serving a 20-year prison term for collaborating with rebels in a plot to seize Peru's Congress, could be discussed during President Bush's visit to Peru next month.

The Peruvian authorities may even consider a pardon if the legal conditions are met, he said to reporters at a news conference at the Organization of the American States.

"On the hypothetical field, we can talk about everything," he said.

Berenson, 32, a New York native, was convicted in 1996 by a military tribunal of hooded judges, who sentenced her to life in prison without parole on charges she was a rebel leader. But a higher military tribunal overturned the ruling in August 2000 and sent the case to a civilian anti-terrorist court.

In June 2001, that court convicted her of terrorist collaboration in a failed bid by the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement to take over Peru's Congress in 1995. She was acquitted of being a member of the rebel group.

She was sentenced to 20 years in prison but is due to be released in 2015 because she had already served five years under the 1996 conviction.

In January, Berenson asked Peru's highest appeals court to overturn her prison sentence but the five-judge panel has not made a decision yet.

"The Supreme Court is reviewing the case at this time," Garcia Sayan said. "So, that's a matter, at least in its current phase, that cannot be subject of political or diplomatic decisions."

"But, as a friends of the U.S. government we can listen to any proposals they might be interested in," he said.

As long as the process is before the courts, the Peruvian constitution says the president cannot grant a pardon, Garcia Sayan said.

"A pardon can only be approved for persons that have finished all court procedures - that is not the case of Ms. Berenson at this time," he said. "When that premise happens, we of course can, as we would do in any other case, analyze and consider all options."

He said editorial comment in Peruvian newspapers that anti-terrorism laws in Peru have created complex situations and left room for human rights violations probably has some truth.

But since President Alberto Fujimori was toppled 15 months ago, "we have eliminated some controversial provisions of the anti-terrorism law, especially the jurisdiction of military tribunals over suspects of terrorism."