March 26, 2001

Berenson on Peru TV: I'm a political prisoner

                  LIMA, Peru (AP) -- American Lori Berenson, who is facing a retrial in Peru after
                  serving five years in jail for her alleged involvement with leftist guerrillas, says
                  she is a political prisoner.

                  "I am innocent of what they are charging me with," Berenson, 31, told
                  Panamericana television in an interview aired Sunday night. "If they accuse me
                  of thinking what I think, then yes, I am guilty."

                  A secret military court convicted the New York City native of treason in 1996
                  and sentenced her to life in prison for allegedly helping the Tupac Amaru
                  Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA, plot a thwarted takeover of Congress.

                  But after years of pressure from the United States, Peru's highest military court
                  overturned the conviction in August, leading to the new civilian trial on lesser
                  charges of "terrorist collaboration."

                  The new trial began last week and will resume Tuesday.

                  "I consider myself a political prisoner," Berenson said in Sunday's television

                  The former Massachusetts Institute of Technology student declined to answer
                  several questions that dealt directly with details of her case to avoid "generating
                  complications" in her trial.

                  But she did discuss her a statement she made before television cameras before
                  her sentencing in 1996, when she angrily expressed her sympathy for Peru's
                  poor and shouted, "There are no criminal terrorists in the MRTA. It is a
                  revolutionary movement."

                  For many Peruvians, weary from years of guerrilla-fueled violence including car
                  bombings, assassinations and kidnappings, the statement was tantamount to a

                  Berenson said Sunday that she was merely expressing her opinion, which has
                  since been misinterpreted. "The way I said it," she said. "That stays with the
                  people. I understand that."

                  She contended that she was told to yell because there would be no microphone.
                  She also said she was kept for days before the statement in a dirty cell with a
                  prisoner suffering from several untended gunshot wounds.

                  Berenson was arrested with the wife of the top MRTA leader on a bus in
                  November 1995, hours before authorities raided the house that she had rented.

                  Fourteen rebels were captured after an 11-hour gun battle, including the group's
                  second-ranking leader, Miguel Rincon, whom Berenson said she knew as a
                  historian by a different name after he had moved into the house.

                  Berenson maintained Sunday that she had only a vague knowledge of what the
                  MRTA was before arriving in Peru and denied knowing that the people she was
                  renting the house with were Tupac Amaru members.

                  Asked if she regretted ever coming to Peru, Berenson replied: "I regret very
                  much the pain it has caused my family. But do I regret coming to Peru? No, not
                  at all."

                  The interview was taped Friday at the Santa Monica women's prison in Lima.
                  Berenson spoke in fluent Spanish and wore a red sweater that she had knit
                  herself, according to her parents, who are in Peru for the trial.

                  Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.