From jail, rebels ask Peru for new trials
BY LUCIEN CHAUVIN
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
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
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
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
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