The Miami Herald
Nov. 15, 2002

From jail, rebels ask Peru for new trials

  Special to The Herald

  LIMA - Peru's Shining Path may be defeated militarily, but the Maoist revolutionaries are waging an assault on the legal system, flooding the courts with
  petitions demanding immediate release and new trials.

  ''The legal battles form part of the Shining Path's long-term political plan to have its leadership released from prison. They are looking to get people back
  on the street to begin rebuilding,'' says Raúl González, a sociologist who has studied the Shining Path for more than a decade.

  So far this year the Anti-Terrorism and Organized Crime Court has received 460 legal petitions from inmates jailed on terrorism charges. The number of
  requests represents roughly one-fifth of all prisoners serving time for terrorism.

  In the majority of cases, Shining Path inmates demand new trials, arguing that the first were unfair and unconstitutional. In nearly 150 others, the
  inmates want immediate release.


  Shining Path founder and leader Abimael Guzmán took a novel approach. Instead of asking for a new trial, Guzmán wanted to hold press conferences
  from his cell in a special prison built on a navy base in Lima. The courts said no.

  The rejection coincided with the 10th anniversary of Guzmán's arrest. He was nabbed in Lima with most of the party's leaders in September 1992.

  A few weeks later, however, a lower court accepted a request for retrial from Maritza Garrido Lecca, who was arrested with Guzmán. A ballet dancer from
  an upper middle-class family, Garrido Lecca rented the house where Guzmán was nabbed. The first floor served as a dance studio, while Guzmán used
  the second floor to plot the overthrow of the government.

  Garrido Lecca, like many other jailed Shining Path members, alleges that she did not receive a fair trial in 1992, when she was tried and sentenced by a
  military court. She argues that, as a civilian, her constitutional rights were violated because she was tried before military judges.

  The courts, both in Peru and on the international level, agree, ruling that Peru's anti-terrorism legislation violates due process. The government has
  submitted new legislation to Congress, where it remains in committee.


  The Shining Path got the idea of legal challenges from inmates accused of belonging to Peru's other subversive group, the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary
  Movement. Several foreigners, including U.S. citizen Lori Berenson, serving lengthy prison terms for alleged links to the movement presented the first
  court challenges in the late 1990s.

  Four Chileans accused of belonging to Túpac Amaru filed a complaint with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, a branch of the Organization of
  American States, arguing that due process was violated in their trials. .

  The court ordered a retrial in 1999. In protest, then-President Alberto Fujimori yanked Peru out of the court's jurisdiction. Peru returned to the court last
  year. The Chileans' new trial is set to start by the end of this year.

  In the case of Berenson, who was arrested in 1995 and sentenced to life in prison, the government decided to retry her on its own.

  She was found guilty a second time and sentenced to 20 years in June 2001.

  The OAS court accepted her appeal Sept. 11. As a result of the process, which could take between a year and 16 months, the court could order Peru to
  release Berenson.