By PAUL LEWIS
-- Members of an American delegation who visited a New Yorker
sentenced to life in prison in Peru three years ago said Wednesday that she appeared to be in
poor health but was still protesting her innocence.
the Rev. Lucius Walker of Pastors for Peace, said the woman, Lori Berenson,
fingers that were "purplish with a kind of scratchy look" and was suffering "gastric problems" that he
attributed to poor food and water.
Beyond Ms. Berenson's family, the group was the first from the United States permitted to visit her.
in the six-member group, Amy Goodman of Pacifica Radio, said that Ms.
Berenson's hands were purple, that her face was very red and that she had circulatory, digestive and
Ms. Goodman reported
Ms. Berenson, 29, as saying she was innocent of the charges of which she
was convicted in Peru. In January 1996, Ms. Berenson, who was working as a journalist in Peru,
was convicted of treason and sentenced to life in prison for planning terrorist acts. She was tried
before a secret military court presided over by a masked judge and was not allowed to present
In a letter written
in Spanish to human rights organizations that the delegation released,
denied that she was a member of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, a terrorist group, and
said she had never planned violent acts.
After two and
a half years at the Yanamayo maximum-security prison 12,500 feet above
where she developed health problems, Ms. Berenson was moved to the Socabaya Prison, where
she was in solitary confinement for 115 days.
The U.N. Human
Rights Commission has classified her jailing as "arbitrary detention."
Rights Commission of the Organization of American States has agreed to hear her case against Peru,
and Amnesty International and other rights organizations have protested her treatment.
A majority of
U.S. senators and 180 House members have signed petitions for a fair trial
criticized the Clinton administration and the State Department for not
tried more forcefully to have her freed. They said that the U.S. ambassador in Lima, Dennis Jett,
refused to visit her and that she had just four consular visits a year.
The latest State
Department report on human rights in Peru, issued on Feb. 26, has a passing
reference to Ms. Berenson. The report notes that Prime Minister Javier Valle Riestra called for her
release and expulsion to the United States in June but was overruled by President Alberto Fujimori.
The report says
the Peruvian judicial system is "inefficient, often corrupt," and that
it "has appeared
to be easily manipulated by the executive branch." The document also describes prison conditions as
"extremely harsh, particularly in maximum-security facilities."
Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company