American challenges Peruvian court's role
Lori Berenson claims innocence, says she shouldn't be on trial
BY KEVIN G. HALL
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