Peru Asked to Overturn Berenson Term
The Associated Press -- 23 January 2002
by Craig Mauro
LIMA, Peru - Saying American Lori Berenson was convicted for her leftist ideas, a lawyer asked Peru's highest appeals court to overturn her 20-year prison term for collaborating with rebels in a plot to seize Peru's Congress.
Berenson's defense attorney, Jose Luis Sandoval, made the plea before a five-judge panel of the Supreme Court, which has up to 15 working days to decide. Berenson was not present during the hearing.
The court can uphold, overturn or reduce the sentence, Supreme Court spokesman Andiolo Zevallos said.
Berenson considers herself a political prisoner and has said that authorities unfairly portrayed her concern for social justice for the poor as a terrorist agenda.
``The evidence presented is insufficient to justify a conviction,'' Sandoval said after the hearing. ``She has been convicted on the basis of subjective elements and on the basis of her ideas and actions that have nothing to do with the accusation.''
Prosecutor Ysaias Tamayo, an anti-terrorism advocate from the Interior Ministry, asked the court to confirm the sentence. Berenson's open civilian trial ``was carried out with the maximum guarantee of due process,'' he said.
Berenson's parents, Rhoda and Mark Berenson, said in a statement from New York that ``we hope that the appeal will be looked at carefully and that the court will conclude, as we know, that Lori is innocent of the charges.''
Sandoval said he had ``little hope that the Supreme Court's criteria will vary'' from those of the lower court. ``Its magistrates tend to have a conservative position in these cases. They tend to be influenced by public opinion,'' he said.
Berenson, 32, a New York native, was convicted in June 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 an earlier terrorist conviction by a secret military tribunal of hooded judges.
The tribunal had sentenced her in 1996 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 remitted her case to a civilian anti-terrorism court.
That court ruled that Berenson had aided the Tupac Amaru rebels by renting a house that served as their hide-out and posing as a journalist to enter Congress to gather intelligence with a top rebel commander's wife.
Berenson says she didn't know her house-mates were rebels, and hired the commander's wife as a photographer to help with articles she was writing for two small magazines in the United States.
In addition to criticizing the evidence, Sandoval argued on Tuesday that the retrial should be thrown out since it was conducted under Peru's anti-terrorism laws