Peruvian court upholds 20-year prison sentence for convicted American

Posted 8:02 p.m. Feb. 20

by Patrick W. Higgins
U-WIRE (DC BUREAU)

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – The Peruvian government vowed to uphold a 20-year prison sentence for an American woman being held as a terrorist this week, ruling out the possibility of a presidential pardon.

Lori Berenson, 32, has already served six years in a Peruvian prison for allegedly aiding and abetting the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement in a plot to overthrow the Peruvian Congress in 1995.

Berenson, a New York native, continues to deny her involvement with the known terrorist organization, refuting the government’s allegations that she allowed rebels to hide and meet in the house she had rented.

“My own view of the matter is that she did do some suspicious things,” said Dr. Cynthia McClintock, an expert in international affairs and Peruvian politics and a professor at the George Washington University. “She’s very likely to have committed the crimes that she is being punished for.”

McClintock questioned the sentence though, calling 20 years “severe” and “cruel and unusual punishment.”

A lower court acquitted Berenson of being a member of the group, but charged her with providing aid to the rebel faction.

A secret military tribunal sentenced her to life in prison in 1996, but that decision was overturned and referred back to a civilian court in August 2000 due to political pressure from the United States. The Peruvian Supreme Court ruled in favor of that civilian court’s June 2000 decision this week, leaving Berenson little hope for freedom before 2015.

“She is a proven terrorist, sentenced by the Supreme Court. … There is simply nothing more to discuss about the matter,” Fernando Olivera, Peru’s justice minister said in a statement this week. “A presidential pardon is not under consideration.”

McClintock believes otherwise, saying, “Yes, I think that there is a chance that President [Alejandro] Toledo would give her a pardon, but not right now, hopefully within a year.”

Excluding a pardon from President Toledo, Berenson’s only chance of freedom is a favorable ruling from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights or U.S. intervention in her case.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, an international agreement between several Southern and Central American countries is a part of the Organized American States, an international court which strives to, as Article 2 of their charter states, “promote and consolidate representative democracy, with due respect for the principle of nonintervention.”

Member countries of the OAS, including Peru, are obligated to comply with the court’s rulings. The OAS is a regional branch of the United Nations.

Berenson’s parents, Rhonda and Mark, have been lobbying for their daughter’s release since her arrest in 1995. Following the ruling this week, they have increased their pressure on the OAS, Toledo, and even President George W. Bush, who is scheduled to meet with Toledo on March 23.

Bush, who plans to meet with the Peruvian leader to discuss drug trafficking, trade and terrorism, has not commented on whether or not he will include Berenson’s case in his list of concerns.

“At the current time it is a remote chance, given the Bush administrations’ policies on terrorism, for the president to go to bat for a woman charged and convicted of terrorism. It would be hypocritical,” McClintock said.

Richard Boucher, spokesman for the State Department noted that the Peruvians government had, “followed due process in her case,” which is all the United States asked for.

“Pardoning Berenson is Toledo’s responsibility,” McClintock said, “not Bush’s.” No hearing has been set for an OAS hearing on the case.

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