We speak with Mark Berenson, father of political prisoner Lori Berenson who recently returned from Costa Rica where he stood before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights with his wife to convince the court’s judges to overturn the sentence against their 34-year-old daughter. Lori has spent eight years and five months in four different maximum-security prisons in Peru. [includes rush transcript]
On Friday, the family of political prisoner Lori Berenson, who has been in prison in Peru since her arrest in 1995, went before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which is based in Costa Rica. The court is the highest such court for members of the Organization of American States. Accompanied by their lawyer, former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, they were hoping to convince the court’s judges to overturn the sentence against their 34-year-old daughter. If the court rules there is sufficient evidence, it has the power to order Peru to free her.
In 1996, Berenson was tried by a hooded military judge, accused of terrorism, being a leader in the rebel group MRTA (Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru) and of conspiring to take over the Peruvian Congress. Ultimately, she was convicted of Treason Against the Fatherland, despite the fact that she is not a Peruvian citizen. During her trial, she was not allowed to see the evidence against her, nor was she able to defend herself against the charges. She was originally sentenced to life in prison but in a subsequent trial the sentence was changed to 20 years. In all, Lori Berenson has spent eight years and five months in four different maximum-security prisons in Peru.
- Mark Berenson, the father of Lori Berenson, who has been in prison in Peru since 1995.
AMY GOODMAN: Her father has just returned from the case being heard by the court. He joins us in the studio right now. Mark Berenson, welcome.
MARK BERENSON: Good morning, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you describe what happened?
MARK BERENSON: She had a seven-hour hearing Friday. It was an honor that Ramsey Clark, in a wheelchair, was able to go. It’s his first trip since his injury a couple of months ago. He and another American lawyer, Tom Newter — her Peruvian lawyer, did a wonderful job as the Inter-American Commission Of Human Rights. The Peruvian lawyers were there to confuse, confound, and were very persuasive to judges who have to now look at the whole case. But, since in the past, the Inter-American Commission Of Human Rights and the Inter-American Court Of Human Rights have said that the Peruvian laws that tried Lori are wrong. So has Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and W.O.L., and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission from the government of Peru — All said that the laws are wrong; they’re barbaric and made to incarcerate anyone who stood in its way. How did this court, after saying that these laws are wrong for 11 years, now come to a decision that would go against Lori. It would be irrational. We must hope, we must assume victory; and the real complete victory would be Lori’s freedom.
AMY GOODMAN: Your wife, Rhoda Berenson, Lori’s mother, addressed the court.
MARK BERENSON: Rhoda spoke for over three minutes giving testimony as to why this trial was a farce, and that the second trial was no better than her hooded military trial in providing any evidence at all for a conviction, and that Lori must be released. Our lawyers pointed out the numerous human rights violations against Lori, as defined by the American Convention On Human Rights. All the Peruvian lawyers tried to do is mix up the dates and show that: 'How wonderful!, Peru is moving towards democracy.' Our lawyers pointed out that all of the changes that Peru had made in the laws have been suspended, and real change has not occurred. That they still have the same kind of laws under which Lori had been tried upon. It makes no difference. It’s all ex post facto. Lori’s second trial represented double jeopardy. To give her a third trial would mean triple jeopardy. — It makes no sense. I hope that the court will have the honor and the righteousness to do the correct thing, which is to order Lori’s release.
AMY GOODMAN: How did the court receive the arguments?
MARK BERENSON: They were very attentive — the seven international judges. The thing is now totally recorded on audio in English: for those who spoke in English, such as Rhoda, Ramsey Clark and Tom Newter; and in Spanish for the other participants. The President of the Court, the Honorable Judge from Mexico, was quoted in the Peruvian papers saying that a decision will be reached by September. I do have, in my experience that — quote or no quote — Peruvian journalistic news is not accurate. Particularly in the Lori Berenson case. And not accurate nearly one-forth the time. We hope the decision this year would be the real mother’s day present that Rhoda deserves. Her testimony was wonderful. I hope she could be on the program soon, too, to talk you to about that.
AMY GOODMAN: Where is Lori Borenson being held now?
MARK BERENSON: She is being held in northern Peru. After seeing this program this morning, I can say that the Peruvian system is amazing in treating its prisoners today. Better than what we’re seeing here. To say that Americans would be doing this to other people: What we have seen happening in Iraq, or even in the United States: Peru has been known for horrible torture in its prisons; but, I will say that in the prison Lori is in she has been treated well. There have been some improvements in her health while it’s bad, there have been improvements in that as well.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you, Mark Berenson, for being with us. Just returned from the Inter-American Court where Lori Berenson’s case is being heard. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica. We will keep you updated.