Court begins hearings on Berenson case

Newsday -- 07 May 2004

by Marianela Jimenez

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica -- The mother of Lori Berenson, a New Yorker serving a 20-year prison sentence for collaborating with Peruvian terrorists, blasted Peru's judicial system on Friday and said her daughter was "a pawn used in a game of chess."

Rhoda Berenson testified before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which is based in the Costa Rican capital, as part of an effort to convince its judges to overturn the sentence against her 34-year-old daughter. If it rules there is sufficient evidence, the court has the power to order Peru to free her.

Berenson told the judges and a small number of onlookers about the day in November 1995 when the family received a call from the U.S. Embassy in the Peruvian capital of Lima saying that President Alberto Fujimori had appeared on television and mentioned her daughter by name, saying she was collaborating with terrorists.

Lori Berenson was convicted by a secret military court in 1996 and sentenced to life in prison for being a leader of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement and plotting a thwarted attack on Peru's Congress.

That decision was overturned in 2000. The following year she was convicted in a civilian court on the lesser charge of terrorist collaboration and sentenced to 20 years in prison, including time served. Lori Berenson, who has more than a decade remaining on her sentence, denies the charges. Last year, she married Anibal Apari, 40, whom she met when both were serving time in a different prison.

Berenson said family members had heard a tape from January 1998 in which Vladimiro Montesinos, Fujimori's shadowy and feared spy chief, says he will make an example out of Lori Berenson.

"These people were using my daughter like a peon in a game of chess," Berenson said. "I don't know if it was for political reasons, or what."

Montesinos vanished after Fujimori's government fell in 2000. He was captured in Venezuela the following June, and has since been held in a maximum security cell at a naval base in Lima.

Rhoda Berenson's testimony was presented by the Washington-based Inter-American Human Rights Commission. Testimony and final arguments concluded late Friday. The court issues its decisions an average of six months after the hearings.