American Lori Berenson was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison Wednesday for collaborating with leftist guerrillas in a thwarted plot to seize Peru's Congress.
A civilian terrorism court found the 31-year-old New York native guilty of "terrorist collaboration" with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA, but acquitted her of charges that she was an active rebel militant. "Everything leads to the conclusion that the accused Lori Berenson Mejia was not a mere spectator," the judges said in a verdict, read for nearly four hours by a court clerk. "Nor was she distant from what was occurring around her in relation to the activities of the MRTA," the verdict said, adding the case showed "an express and voluntary collaboration." The proceedings were carried live on Peru's cable news station Canal N, reflecting widespread local interest in the case.
Court: Berenson Aided Rebels
In accepting the prosecution's recommended 20-year-sentence, the court ruled that Berenson aided the group by renting a house that served as their hideout and posing as a journalist to enter Congress to gather intelligence with a top rebel commander's wife. Presiding Magistrate Marcos Ibazeta told Berenson if she had any questions or comments. "I consider this an unjust sentence and I am innocent of the charges against me," she said, requesting that the sentence be nullified. The verdict came five hours after Berenson, a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology student, said in her closing statement: "I am not a terrorist." "I am innocent of the prosecutor's charges of being a member of and a collaborator with the MRTA," she said. "I am not a terrorist. I condemn terrorism, and I say that in every case."
Little Sympathy in Peru
There is little sympathy for Berenson in Peru, which still remembers the bloody war against leftist rebels that wound down in the early 1990s. Justice Minister Diego Garcia Sayan said earlier that the government would respect the verdict and that Berenson would serve out any sentence in Peru — dimming hopes that she could receive a presidential pardon even if she is convicted. A spokesman for President-elect Alejandro Toledo, who takes office July 28, said he had no immediate comment on whether he might consider a pardon. But the spokesman said Toledo might discuss the matter on a trip to the United States next week to seek economic aid. Berenson has served more than five years in Andean jails after the military convicted her for allegedly plotting a thwarted raid on Congress by the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA. That conviction was annulled in August and a new trial ordered. Wednesday's proceeding capped a high-profile trial in which Berenson adamantly proclaimed her innocence and criticized Peru's judicial system.
‘She Loves Peru, She Loves Justice’