The Miami Herald
March 21, 2001

American challenges Peruvian court's role

Lori Berenson claims innocence, says she shouldn't be on trial

 Herald World Staff

 LIMA, Peru -- New Yorker Lori Berenson interrupted the beginning of her subversion trial Tuesday to question the court's legitimacy and to declare herself innocent of
 charges that she collaborated with a terrorist group.

 ``I am innocent of all the accusations that have been made against me,'' Berenson told a three-judge civilian court from behind the bars of a zoo-like cage at Lurigancho
 men's prison outside Lima.

 A secret military court convicted Berenson of treason and sentenced her to life in prison on Jan. 11, 1996, after she was declared a leader of the Túpac Amaru
 Revolutionary Movement, the smaller of two guerrilla groups that were trying to topple Peru's government.

 The conviction, by a court in which the judges wore hooded robes and the defense had no access to evidence, was annulled last August after former President Alberto
 Fujimori's government said it had found ``new evidence'' that Berenson was not a terrorist leader. Her case was sent to the civilian court to be retried on lesser charges of
 collaboration with terrorists. Prosecutors on Tuesday asked the judges to hand down a 20-year sentence.

 Berenson complained that being caged for her trial ``violates the presumption of innocence,'' but Judge Marcos Ibazeta shot back that she was being tried under Peru's
 rules. ``We cannot discriminate because it would violate the principal of equality in our country,'' he said.

 Defendants in Peru and other nations whose legal systems are based on France's Napoleonic code do not enjoy the same presumption of innocence as defendants in the
 United States and other nations whose laws are derived from English precedents.

 Berenson attracted international attention when she was paraded in front of the press before her military trial and defiantly shouted that the Túpac Amaru were not
 terrorists but revolutionaries.

 On Tuesday, Berenson was more subdued but equally defiant. She wore a long paisley skirt, a white shirt, dangling white fish earrings and simple black shoes.

 She had no reaction as the charges were read against her, looking occasionally in the direction of her parents, college professors Mark and Rhoda Berenson, who were
 seated in the gallery.

 Suspects in Peru usually do not take the microphone, but Berenson interrupted the proceedings to accuse former President Fujimori of using her prosecution to appear
 tough on terrorism.

 ``I think it is known by everyone that my case was utilized politically by the prior government of Mr. Fujimori. From when I was detained, I was named on every occasion
 as a smoke screen,'' she said, calling her retrial political.

 Risking the wrath of the judges, two men and a woman who will decide her fate, Berenson protested that the trial was even being held. ``The laws under which I am judged
 are from the previous government. They are laws that were declared under a state of emergency,'' Berenson said, noting the laws have been criticized on human rights

                                    © 2001