"News Fit to Transmit in the Post Cassini Flyby Era"
Lori Berenson Wrongfully Convicted Again by Flawed Peruvian Justice System
For Immediate Release
20 June 2001
For more information, contact:
Gail Taylor 202-548-8480 or Bob Schwartz 212-475-3232
Lori Berenson Wrongfully Convicted Twice by Flawed
Peruvian Justice System
Lori Berenson was convicted and given a 20-year sentence this afternoon in Lima, Perú, of terrorist collaboration despite a lack of evidence and multiple due process violations in her trial. Although Berenson has consistently maintained her innocence, a panel of three judges ruled today that she is guilty.
None of the witnesses in the case confirmed the prosecution's accusations that Berenson was involved with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), including the prosecution's star witness Pacifico Castrellón. However, the prosecution is relying on much of Castrellón's testimony as a basis for keeping Ms. Berenson in jail, because he is the only witness that points out links between Berenson and the MRTA. Berenson denies any such connections. I am innocent of all charges against me. Neither of my trials, in the civilian or military court, has proven me guilty of any crime, she stated this morning in her closing address before the court.
Berenson maintained that she did not assist the MRTA and only became aware that some of her acquaintances in Lima were involved with the group after her arrest. All witnesses in Ms. Berenson's case have confirmed this statement, saying that they did not receive any support from her for their plans to attack the Peruvian Congress.
Berenson's parents, who have been in the courtroom for the past three months, addressed reporters outside the prison today after the verdict stating, Even before this trial began we knew that, as responsible and experienced observers worldwide uniformly recognized, a fair trial in Perú on terrorism charges in its special civilian courts under the present laws that were instituted by former President Fujimori and staffed by Fujimori appointees would not be possible. This was simply a retrial of the corrupt military proceedings of five and a half years ago.
Interestingly, Perú's judicial system is more on trial these past few months than Berenson herself, since the open hearings which began on March 20 have been broadcast on national and international television. It is apparent that Perú's judicial system remains flawed, and that due process guarantees are not automatically guaranteed, even though some basic international standards of due process are inherent in the Peruvian legislation.
Berenson was prejudged by the 3-judge panel before and during her open hearing in the courtroom and the media. She was not presumed innocent as Peruvian and international law require, but was considered guilty throughout the entire proceedings. Corrupt and incompetent court personnel also continues to be a problem in Perú; a state prosecutor who was responsible for drafting the charges against Ms. Berenson has since been fired for this reason. Still, Perú has a long way to go in improving its judicial system, and Berenson's case has only reaffirmed that to the world.
It's amazing that even though the entire world is watching, the Peruvian government gave Lori a sentence despite the fact that they were unable to produce evidence to prove she is guilty, stated Gail Taylor, National Organizer of the Committee to Free Lori Berenson in Washington, DC. Many in Perú are talking about what a crook [former President] Fujimori is, and yet there is not sufficient pressure to reform the judicial system and take out all of the illegal anti-terrorist legislation that he passed by executive decree after he overthrew his own government in 1992.
Lori taught us not to stand for that. She said that to be silent is to be an accomplice to the injustice. So we re not going to be silent, because someone has to be the voice for thousands of people who, like Lori, are being unjustly held in a system that doesn't treat people accused of crimes fairly.
Lori Berenson was convicted of terrorism under the Fujimori-Montesinos government and given a life sentence in 1996. After serving almost five years in extremely harsh conditions, her conviction was overturned. In the short time since Fujimori and Montesinos fled Perú in disgrace no structural changes have been made to the corrupt justice system Fujimori installed. The terrorist court that retried Berenson has been criticized internationally, as well as the anti-terrorist laws under which she has been convicted. The US State Department's report on human rights found that Perú's court system does not provide a fair trial for people charged with terrorism according to international standards.
Berenson's previous conviction in the Peruvian military courts was overturned last August because of new evidence that was presented, but instead of being released she was held with no charges as the civilian terrorist court case was being developed. Berenson's lawyer and independent legal observers documented at least twenty due process violations in the second trial.
Boston Globe supports Lori
"Although it makes possible her exoneration, the retrial in a Peruvian civilian court of former MIT student Lori Berenson on charges of ''terrorist collaboration'' flouts the principle that a defendant should not be subject to double jeopardy. The second trial also suggests that despite the fall of President Alberto Fujimori and his corrupt spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos, Peru remains a sham democracy."
PLEASE ACT NOW TO SECURE LORI'S RELEASE
Call your Member of Congress and ask them to sign on to the Dear Colleague letter: Lori's Congresswoman, Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), along with Reps. Jim Leach (R-NY), Connie Morella (R-MD), and Maxine Waters (D-NY). They are asking that Members sign a letter to Peruvian President Paniagua asking for Lori's release.
The U.S. Congressional Switchboard telephone number is 202-224-3121.
1) Lori Berenson has already served over 5 ˝ years under extremely harsh conditions. She was unjustly sentenced in January 1996 by a special military court for terrorism in Peru, and on June 20 she was unjustly sentenced by a special civilian court for terrorism.
2) She has repeatedly claimed her innocence, stating recently that, "I am innocent of all charges against me. Neither of my trials, in the civilian or military court, has proven me guilty of any crime." The original sentence was overturned for insufficient evidence, and using the same tainted evidence the prosecution has unjustly sentenced her again.
3) Her trial was unfair because of due process violations, judicial bias and prejudgment (considered by the public, press, and judges to be guilty before evidence was presented), and the use of tainted and fabricated evidence.
She should be released. Please join your colleagues in sending a message to the Peruvian Government that Lori Berenson should be released immediately. Call Orly Isaacson in Cong. Maloney's office: 202-225-7944.
Closing Court Statement of Lori Berenson, June 20, 2001
I am innocent of all charges against me. Neither of my trials, in the civilian or military court, has proven me guilty of any crime. The charges against me are still based upon the hearsay of a fellow detainee who is trying to be freed at my expense.
Since the very day of my arrest I have been called a terrorist, a term that has been used and abused in Peruvian society for far too many years, mostly because of the psychological impact of a concept that brings to mind indiscriminant violence designed to terrorize; irrational destructive violence; deadly, senseless terror. I am not a terrorist; I condemn terrorism; I always have.
I feel very sad for all direct and indirect victims of violence. The damage to a society goes beyond the physical and psychological impact of violence on its victims and their families. It leaves deep wounds, painful wounds, and it is very sad to watch a people endure it. Political violence harms a society because it is interconnected with the institutionalized violence criticized by important church authorities in the second half of the twentieth century. El Salvador's martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero gave his life in 1980 because of his criticism of what he called institutionalized violence, as did Bishop Juan Gerardi martyred in Guatemala. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of clergy and lay workers were assassinated for defending the poor and speaking the truth against social injustice and the institutionalized violence of hunger and poverty that is the horrendous daily peril of millions.
When on March 20 I said my case has been used as a smoke screen, that it is a political trial, it is because of the particular elements regarding my case and also, in general, the cases of all those detained and tried in the context of political violence. There is a very simple reason: the existence of insurgent or rebel movements in Latin America and many other places in the world has a lot to do with social and economic conditions. The government responds through state policy, albeit solely militarily or with other components, to draw attention from these conditions.
Thousands of Peruvians have suffered persecution, detention, torture, death as part of a state policy violating the human and fundamental rights of its population. After ex-President Fujimori's self-coup in 1992, constitutional law was violated by executive decrees made during a state of emergency. The congress and universities were closed, all forms of social organization and opposition were prohibited. The unconstitutional legislation included the antiterrorist laws that destroyed due process in civilian and military courts. But today in Peru and throughout the world it is common knowledge that the Peruvian state did more than violate human rights by closing democratic institutions and stomping on labor and social rights and leaving its people hungry. It is now common knowledge that behind the unconstitutional legislation and the manipulation of public opinion around certain issues like political violence was an extremely corrupt government that profited from the blood and sweat of its citizens, condemning them to live in hunger and misery. The dictatorship manipulated the judiciary to ensure the cover up of human rights violations and corruption. It wasn't an issue of particular judicial authorities, but the system itself and the legislation. In the cases of those tried for "terrorism" or treason, they were often condemned on the basis of hearsay and fabricated evidence. People were sentenced for refusing to admit guilt regardless of whether or not they were guilty. They were condemned for not fingering others and for rejecting the psychological and social stigma of being called a "terrorist." Hearsay, supposed intentions, finger pointing or lack thereof, personal and political opinions none of these constitute proof of any crimes.
I am aware that much of the Peruvian public has a very negative image of me, which in part is because of the anger I expressed, how aggressive I came across, when I was illegally presented to the press in January 1996. And I am aware how that image and those statements were manipulated to create a monster larger than life, so that later I personified twenty years of insurgent and state violence. This was part of the propaganda designed to make people forget how government policy and corruption impoverished the Peruvian people.
As I have stated in this trial, I regret having come across as such an angry or aggressive person, especially if it confused or offended the Peruvian people whom I really respect and love. The anger I showed was the result of my indignation upon seeing not only the violation of human rights and fundamental rights of the Peruvian people, but also the suffering I witnessed in DINCOTE and the farce of a trial I was undergoing. The mistreatment and outright torture of my fellow detainees form only a short chapter of the history of torture in DINCOTE or army bases that was a state policy. Even so, I think it was wrong of me to have expressed myself in that way, so angry. I should have said the same or similar things, but in a calmer way. However, I believe I was punished more for what I said. Not only was I given a life sentence, but also for over five years my name and image were used as a symbol of so-called "terrorism." The punishment was for not cowering to the system of injustice and for expressing my beliefs.
I am innocent of the charges against me. Even with the limitations of ex-President Fujimori's antiterrorism legislation that will sentence me today, this court has not proven the contrary.
Yes, I jointly rented a house with another person, but I did not do so with the idea or intent of doing so for the MRTA and there is no evidence to the contrary.
Yes, I did rent an apartment later that year, once the house had been sublet. I rented it and lived in it as witnesses from the apartment building have confirmed. I did not rent it to hide anyone or for any reason related to the MRTA, and there is no evidence to the contrary.
Yes, I did know on a social, human basis, several people who wound up being part of, or somehow related to the MRTA. I knew them with other identities and I had absolutely no reason to doubt the truth of who they said they were. They did not act in any way to make me think otherwise. Perhaps there is a cultural difference here, but it goes against my upbringing to snoop around in someone else's belongings or covertly visit their rooms, to interrogate them or pry into their private lives. I had already lived in several communal environments, both in the United States and abroad, and there is an issue of mutual respect, respect for other's space and privacy. One must mind one's own business. For these reasons, after subletting, I never went to the fourth level of the house nor did I go into any other room that was sublet. I never cooked for the MRTA nor brought food upstairs. I never led nor participated in indoctrination courses not with or without a hood. No one has testified to the contrary. In fact the young people who had lived there all said as do I that they first saw me in DINCOTE or in prison.
Among my personal belongings the police found my computer, beeper, and the cell phone I rented. I used these things for work and recreational purposes. Unfortunately the books, the tapes, and my writings "strangely" disappeared. They would have provided concrete evidence of studies I was conducting and the articles I was writing. I did not obtain any "communications equipment," beepers, or computers for the MRTA and there is no evidence to the contrary.
I did not come to Peru to cause any harm. I was and am interested in Peru's history and Peru's future. The reason I wanted to write articles about Peru was precisely because I thought it was very important that people in the United States and elsewhere know more about Peru. Peru's cultural richness should be more greatly appreciated by all. I believe that cultural history should be considered useful in the present and looking toward the future. I was seriously writing those articles. The editors of the magazines have confirmed it. My notes, my interviews with various people prove it. I knew nothing about any supposed plan the MRTA may have had to seize the congress. To this day I know nothing about such a plan or even if it existed and if it existed, I certainly had nothing to do with it.
After hearing Miguel Rincon's testimony in this courtroom and the reading of Pacifico Castrell & oacute;n's statements at different phases of this process, I am absolutely certain that Castrell & oacute;n has told lies to save his own skin, not simply to hide any real participation he may have had in all of this, but especially to seek his own release by condemning others. His statements were the only basis of my sentence in the military court and were the basis of the prosecutor's accusations here. It is very common to shift responsibilities to others when trying to secure your release. Castrellón admitted to knowing many people who he described in detail and pointed a finger at. I don't know if he really knew these people or if they even existed because the only evidence of their existence is in Castrellón's statement. But certainly I have never, ever met any of the people he claims he met through me. Such claims are absolutely false. Some of the contradictions between Castrellón's statements and those of the other detainees support what Miguel Rincon said about Castrellón in this courtroom. When Castrellón was asked why Rincon called him an international collaborator, Castrellón said "Oh, that's part of their jargon, the same way he would have considered me to be a traitor." The concept of betrayal denoted having belonged to or shared something with a group of people or cause.
I am innocent of the prosecutor's charges of being a member of and a collaborator with the MRTA. In fact, by definition one cannot be both a member and a collaborator. I am neither and there is no evidence to the contrary.
I did not come to Peru to cause harm or damage to anyone or anything. I have always been deeply concerned with issues of poverty and social justice, and if I was interested in Peru' history and its people, it was with my best intentions. When I spoke about poverty five years ago during my press presentation, it was because the human suffering caused by social injustice is unfair, inhumane, and downright immoral. Poverty in Peru has gotten worse since my detention. Now people talk about more sectors of poor and higher percentages of extreme poverty. And no one can deny this. Not only that, politicians, the church -- everyone speaks of it. I have been very open and honest about this because it has been part of my way of life for many years -- I believe that when things are wrong, one should say they are wrong. One should speak out when faced with injustice. I am grateful I was raised that way, as I am also grateful that my family continues to support and promote those social and moral values, for all people. I am grateful for the help of my family and friends and especially for the presence of my parents in this courtroom throughout this trial.
I haven't hidden my opinions or my beliefs. I have been honest and transparent when expressing who I am and what I think. It has been a tremendous honor for me to be involved in social issues for many years. It has also been a great honor for me to work in a country like El Salvador, work with refugees, with students, and, particularly, on the peace process. I have nothing to be ashamed of. If I describe my work in El Salvador or say I like the music of Victor Jara who was cruelly assassinated by a dictatorship because of his beliefs, that does not make me guilty of a crime. On the contrary, I think that it makes it clearer who I am and what I believe. I have nothing but love for the Latin American and Peruvian people. I've been in jail many years now, but I still have great hopes and I'm still convinced that there will be a future of justice for the people of Peru and all humanity.
June 20, 2001
* * * * * *
For the 20 June 2001 AP story:
Lori delivers her closing statement
to the court ahead of announcement of the verdict, see
* * * * * *
If you can, please join supporters of Lori Berenson at the following demonstrations:
Mon. June 25
5:30 - 7 PM
Peruvian Consulate, 241 E 49th St
New York City
Speakers, music, rally-- welcome Mark and Rhoda Berenson back to the United States after 3
months in Peru; call for Lori Berenson's freedom.
Thurs. June 28
Peruvian Embassy, 1700 Mass Ave NW
Speakers, music, rally, puppets-- Mark and Rhoda Berenson come to Washington to lobby US Congress to support Lori's release, ask Peruvian government to release Lori.
For more information visit: