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Delegation urges Peru to release U.S. citizen


A six-member delegation recently visited Lori Berenson, a U.S. citizen jailed in Peru on charges of terrorism three years ago, and demanded her immediate release.

At a March 10 news conference following the delegation’s return to the United States, Berenson’s father challenged Peru to comply with international law and free her.

Berenson, 29, was working as a freelance journalist in Peru when she was accused of participation in a failed plot to seize control of the Peruvian parliament by the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. She was sentenced to life in prison by a hooded military tribunal. Human rights organizations charged she was denied due process. During the trial no evidence was presented against her, and she was not allowed to offer a defense.

“If Peru wants to play in this world as an equal partner in the world community, it must abide by international regulations,” said Berenson’s father, Mark Berenson. “The world has spoken out and said that your military tribunals are illegal. They violate international law to which Peru is a signatory, and Peru must comply.”

At the news conference, the delegation, which was in Peru from March 2 to 4, presented a letter that Lori Berenson wrote in August 1998 to “members of the community of organizations for human rights,” maintaining her innocence of the charges against her.

The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has called Berenson’s imprisonment “arbitrary detention.” Amnesty International has also stated that she did not receive a fair trial.

Amnesty has charged that Berenson is being subjected to cruel and inhuman punishment and has not received the medical attention she needs. According to Amnesty, she was transferred from Yanamayo Maximum Security Prison to Socabaya Prison in October 1998 “ostensibly because of her poor health.” However, after her arrival, she was placed in solitary confinement for 115 days.

The delegation expressed concern for Berenson’s health. They said she was suffering from blood circulation and skin problems, as well as eye problems due to confinement in the dark. “Lori’s hands are purple and inflamed due to the harsh prison conditions,” a statement said. “Nonetheless, she continues to voice concern about the rights of other prisoners who have been forced to endure brutal treatment in the prisons high in the mountains of Peru.”

The delegation’s visit came on the heels of a report from the U.S. State Department, which called Peru’s justice system the worst in South America.

Delegation members included Blase Bonpane, director of the Office of the Americas; Kirsten Gardner, Berenson’s college roommate; and the Rev. Lucius Walker, director of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization/Pastors for Peace.

National Catholic Reporter, March 19, 1999