The Miami Herald
Fri, May. 07, 2004

U.S. Woman in Peru Prison Seeks Freedom

Associated Press

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica - The mother of an American jailed on terrorism charges in Peru told an international court on Friday that her daughter should be freed because Peru's judicial system is inept.

Rhoda Berenson testified before the San Jose-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which has the power to legally require member nations, such as Peru, to comply with its rulings.

The court agreed to hear Lori Berenson's case after she claimed that Peruvian courts denied her due process. She is serving a 20-year sentence on a conviction for collaborating with Peruvian terrorists.

In her testimony, Rhoda Berenson charged that the Peruvian judicial system permitted human rights violations. She also argued there was bias against her daughter that prevented a fair trial. In one instance, she said U.S. officials told her that Peru's president had appeared on television in 1995 and mentioned her daughter by name, saying she was collaborating with terrorists.

Lori Berenson was convicted by a secret military court the next year and sentenced to life in prison for being a leader of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement and plotting a thwarted attack on Peru's Congress.

That decision was overturned in 2000. The following year she was convicted in a civilian court on the lesser charge.

Lori Berenson, who has more than a decade remaining on her sentence, denies the charges. Last year, she married Anibal Apari, 40, whom she met when both were serving time in a different prison.

Rhoda Berenson said the regular Peruvian judicial system committed the same mistakes and human rights violations as the military tribunal.

She said family members had heard a tape from January 1998 in which Vladimiro Montesinos, Fujimori's shadowy and feared spy chief, says he will make an example out of Lori Berenson.

The judges also listened to the testimony of Fausto Alvarado, who served as Peru's Secretary of Justice until February. Alvarado and the Peruvian government opposes the petition to overturn Berenson's sentence.

Testimony and final arguments concluded late Friday. The court issues its decisions an average of six months after the hearings.