Peru Not Releasing U.S. Prisoner

The Associated Press -- 9 April 1999

LIMA, Peru (AP) -- Peru's Congress has approved legislation requiring that foreign prisoners convicted of terrorism serve their full jail sentences in the Andean nation.

The measure, passed late Thursday and now awaiting President Alberto Fujimori's signature, would hurt the chances of imprisoned New York-native Lori Berenson to win transfer to a U.S. prison.

Fujimori's approval is considered likely.

Berenson, 29, was sentenced to life in prison for terrorism by a secret Peruvian military court on Jan. 11, 1996. She was accused of helping rebels of the leftist Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement plan a thwarted assault on Peru's Congress.

Her health has deteriorated during the more than three years she has served in Peruvian prisons, family members say.

Her parents say she is innocent and U.S. officials have asked Peru to give Berenson an open, civilian trial. But Fujimori has said she is a terrorist and will receive no special treatment.

Peru and the United States have a treaty that allows American prisoners sentenced in Peru to serve part of their sentences in the United States. Under the new law, only common criminals could apply for transfers, lawyers say.

It was not immediately clear if the new law would violate the treaty by restricting which prisoners are eligible for transfer.

Berenson, a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology student, has not applied for such a transfer, saying it would be an admission of guilt, her father Mark Berenson said in a telephone interview from New York.

"Peru continually singles out Lori for harsh treatment because she is American. In my opinion, this law would violate its transfer treaty with the United States," Mark Berenson said.

Lori Berenson is held in Socabaya prison in Peru's southern highlands, 465 miles southeast of the capital, Lima.