09 June 2009

Lori Berenson - the forgotten woman

I will truly be happy if President Obama (via Al Gore, possibly) can secure the release of Lora Ling and Euna Lee, the two journalists who were sentenced to 12 years hard labour by North Korea. I truly was happy when journalist Roxana Saberi, was released from prison in Iran. These women journalists were targeted and convicted by governments more interested in using them for political reasons than in pursuing justice.

Does anyone remember Lori Berenson? Ms. Berenson has been imprisoned in Peru since her arrest in November of 1995. She was charged - falsely - by Peru as a terrorist who belonged to the "Shining Path" organization, and tried twice in court proceedings that have been condemned by human rights organizations around the world for secrecy, lack of due process, and outright lies. Her trials and the presumption of guilt violated Peru's own laws on double jeopardy and presumption of innocence. She was, in fact, a journalist with valid press credentials, whose only crime was working for social justice. From the website of the Committee to Free Lori Berenson:
  • In January 1996 Lori was found guilty of treason and sentenced to life in prison by a secret hooded military tribunal while a hooded soldier held a gun to her head. There was no trial. These military tribunals have been condemned by the U.S. Department of State, Amnesty International, The Carter Center for Human Rights, and Human Rights Watch: Americas. In December 1998, the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights stated that Lori Berenson was deprived of her liberty arbitrarily and that the government of PerĂº must take all necessary steps to remedy her wrongful incarceration.
Perhaps this would be a good time to remind the world of this woman's unlawful and disgraceful imprisonment. How can we help? We can write to Lori, write to President Obama, write to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and our congressional representatives. We can even write to Lori - and her parents! - to tell them that she has not been forgotten.


Carrie K said...

Oh, that is so awful. All of it. Good idea.

Eggymetta said...

Lets straighten out some facts about Lori Berenson to see that she is not like Lora Ling or Euna Lee:

Lori rented a house that was occupied by a violent organization called the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement ("MRTA"). She obtained press credentials from 2 obscure publications in order to gain access to the Peruvian Parliament for the purpose of the group's taking over the building. She used Nancy Gilvonio as her "photographer" when she was casing parliament. Nancy was the wife of Nestor Cerpa, the leader of the MRTA. She and Nancy were arrested on a bus together.

She rented a house with Pacifico Castrellon, a Panamanian gunrunner who was affiliated with the MRTA. Mr. Castrellon testified that Lori knew what she was doing and knew who she rented her house to.

The night she was arrested the police came to the house she rented and the occpants engaged in a shootout with the police. After 2 MRTA members and one police officer were killed, the police raided Lori's house and found a stash of guns and grenades. They also found 2 police uniforms in another apartment rented by Lori. they also found her drawings of the floor plans of Congress.

In her press conference after her first trial she defiantly declared tha the MRTA are not terrorists, but a revolutionary movement. This was a group that regularly kidnapped and killed civilians and blew up buildings.

In prison she affiliated herself with MRTA members and ended up marrying one. He is the father of her child.

When the MRTA raided the Japanese Embassy in Lima in 2006 and held people hostage for months, the leader Cerpa gave the Peruvian government a list of MRTA members he wanted released. Lori's name was 3rd on the list.

In interview after interview, Lori has refused to renounce the MRTA.

While it is pretty much consensus that her first trial in 1996 in front of a hooded judge was not free and fair, her 2001 re-trial was viewed as free, fair and open by many groups, including Amnesty International. Even though she appealed her 2001 conviction to the Interamerican Court of Human Rights, that court dismissed her appeal stating that she received a fair trial.

teabird said...

Thank you for your comment. I know that there are at least two ways of looking at Lori Berenson's situation.

I also know that she was an accredited journalist with publications that may not have been in line with the thoughts of Peru or the U.S., and may not have had the exposure or cachet of Time, Newsweek, or the National Review, but were, never the less, legitimate.

She never should have been imprisoned until 2001 for the crime of living in or renting a house. I'm not surprised that she would have developed a relationship with Shining Path members in prison, since she was imprisoned with them, and I'm glad she has been able to have a child despite whatever conditions exist in a Peruvian prison for political prisoners.

There never have been allegations that she personally engaged in violent actions, only that she was in proximity to people who had been accused of (not convicted of, at that point) violent actions.

I'm sorry: whatever she may have done does not justify having been imprisoned as a result of the original trial. She should have been freed before the second trial took place. And she certainly should be freed now.

Incidentally, the journalists in Korea and the journalist in Iran were also accused of crimes against the state. Perhaps these political prisoners would not be free today were it not for the internet, which can create the kind of international outrage that works better than anything else in calling attention to such injustices.

GeorgeW6 said...

Peru really has no fair judicial system with regards to their native born terror and all anti-government groups. When they found this not-too-bright American female in Lima, the military went berserk and, in effect, sentenced her to death by sending her to the top of the Andes to serve her "LIFE" sentence in an unheated barren cell. I can see where she might say a few things unacceptable things about her torturers.
She was convicted later by the same government using the same secret trial material. The International Court was going to demand that she be freed when the Peruvian Foreign Minister rushed to the Court hearing to provide some further SECRET reason why they should reverse their before even making it official.
I immediately thought of Lori when reading about the American journalists arrested in Iran and North Korea and also charged with spying and other anti-regime activities in countries not friends of the USA, as Peru claims it is now.
President Bush signed a trade ageement in Lima with them last year. In light of his ideas on torture and false imprisonment, he could not be expected to raise any objections to the treatment of the American in prison.
Crazily, we treat most of the accused foreign terrorists in our hands much better than Lori was ever treated by the Peruvians.
Lori, by all accounts, for all of her years in prison, has been a model prisoner in Peru. She ran the prison bakery in her last prison in the far north of Peru. She was allowed to marry and her husband was free at the time, not just someone who was in MRTA, but a free man unlike his American wife, whom the Peruvian government could also free.
Possibly THEY are too busy taking away what little their Amazonian tribes have, so the Peruvian elites and
military can hang onto all that seems precious to them and always makes conditions ideal for terrorism and often repression and injustice.
That is the sad story of Lori Berenson. Without saying the government did any wrong, the Peruvian President should show some mercy, put her and her American child on a direct flight to the USA, their home, sooner or later.

teabird said...

George, thank you for your comment.
The facts, as you state them, are the facts I believe as well. Perhaps the Peruvian President would have shown some mercy if an American President had (at least) mentioned her case in the last 14 years, and asked (with some humility, perhaps?)for that mercy.

Perhaps that will change with this administration, especially since an American child is involved now.

I hope so.

Michael said...

I am afraid that Ms Berenson is exactly where she belongs. She has been blatantly aligned with violent anti-government groups in several Latin American countries (El Savador previously and now Peru). She should either renounce the terrorists groups or shut up and serve her sentence then scurry back to her trust fund life in New York City; these ceaseless attempts to appear as a victim are annoying and only hurt the real activists movements.....

Lilac Sunday said...

Lori Berenson was part of an insurrection against the country in which she was a guest. Lori Berenson is exactly where she deserves to be, and no American President should damage his credibility by seeking her release.

teabird said...

Thank you all for sharing your thoughts on this issue. There's nothing so healthy as a good discussion.