American Woman Charged With Treason Sentenced to Life in Prison

The Associated Press -- Thursday, 11 January 1996

LIMA, Peru (AP) - A military court sentenced a 26-year-old American woman to life in prison without parole today for her involvement with a pro-Cuban guerrilla group.

Lori Berenson, a human rights activist from New York, was sentenced on a charge of treason after a secret trial in a military court.

Her lawyers and human rights activists say the charge was inappropriate because Berenson is not a Peruvian citizen.

Her lawyer in Lima said he had filed an appeal.

"This sentence is completely different from the recommendation of the prosecutor," said attorney Grimaldo Achahui. The military prosecutor had asked for a 30-year sentence.

"A life sentence is not in accord with the law. ... She should be tried for terrorism," Achahui said.

The court ordered Berenson sent to Yanamayo prison in Puno, a high-security facility for convicted terrorists located on the cold Andean plateau.

Berenson was arrested Nov. 30 and charged with belonging to the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. Earlier this week, she said she expected to be convicted.

"If it is a crime to worry about the inhuman condition in which the majority of this population lives, I will accept my punishment," said Berenson, speaking in Spanish and surrounded by policewomen during a news conference carried live Monday on Peruvian radio and television.

"I love this nation," Berenson said. "And although this love is going to cause me years in prison, I will never stop loving it. And I will never lose the hope and confidence that tomorrow there will be justice in Peru."

Berenson was arrested hours before a police raid on the guerrillas' hideout in an affluent Lima neighborhood. Three rebels and a policeman were killed in the shootout.

The siege of the guerrilla safe house reportedly foiled rebel plans to seize Congress and take congressmen as hostages to gain the freedom of imprisoned guerrilla leaders.

The small rebel group started fighting Peru's elected government in 1984 but was weakened eight years later when its leaders were captured. Never considered a threat to government security, the group is believed to have only a few hundred armed supporters left.