US Blasted Over Imprisoned Woman

The Associated Press -- 11 March 1999

by Richard Pyle

NEW YORK -- The U.S. government has not done enough to help free a New York woman imprisoned for life in Peru on trumped-up charges, her father said.

"I am offended by my country! I am offended by my government! Where is President Clinton feeling my pain?" Mark Berenson shouted Wednesday at a news conference.

Lori Berenson, 29, was convicted of high treason and other crimes by a Peruvian military tribunal in 1995 for her alleged participation in a failed rebel plot to seize control of the Peruvian parliament. Her closed trial was held before hooded judges, a practice used until 1997 to protect court officials from retaliation.

Her supporters say the former Massachusetts Institute of Technology student was in Peru as a journalist covering social issues and was not involved in the alleged plot by the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement.

Berenson, his wife, Rhoda, and four members of a private human rights delegation just returned from Peru, where, by a stroke of luck, they managed last weekend to get inside the mountain prison where Ms. Berenson is being held. They said it was the first time since she was locked up in 1995 that any nonofficial delegation had been able to see her without a screen between them, and even embrace her.

A letter from the Peruvian government, denying the delegation permission to enter the Socabaya prison, arrived in New York this week, just as the group was returning to the United States.

At the news conference, the group released a letter that Ms. Berenson had written last August to "members of the community of organizations for human rights," asserting that "I am completely innocent of the horrendous charges against me, and there could not be real evidence that shows such crimes."

At the news conference, Berenson, a statistics professor at Baruch College, accused Clinton and other top officials of currying favor with Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori by ignoring blatant human rights abuses.

The State Department had no comment.

For three years, Ms. Berenson was held in the frigid Yanamayo prison in the southern Andes Mountains in an unheated, open-air cell without running water, where her hands were said to have swelled up like boxing gloves from the cold.

She was transferred to the warmer Socabaya prison, 465 miles southeast of Lima, but held in isolation for the first 115 days.