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Former MIT Student Guilty of Treason by Peru

By A. Arif Husain
Associate News Editor

Former Institute undergraduate Lori H. Berenson was convicted of high treason by a secret Peruvian military court last Thursday. She received a sentence of life imprisonment for aiding the Marxist Tpac Amaru Resistance Movement guerrilla movement. The group was allegedly planning to seize the Peruvian Congress and take lawmakers as hostages, according to an article in The New York Times.

Berenson, 26, withdrew from the Institute in 1988 as a sophomore in the anthropology and archaeology section of the humanities department. She was arrested Nov. 30 along with 22 others after an all-night shootout in a Lima suburb that left one police officer and three guerrillas dead.

Peru's President Alberto Fujimori charged that Berenson aided rebels, including leader Miguel Rincon, who were planning an attack on Congress, said the Associated Press. Berenson helped them by renting them a safe house in the La Molina district and buying them food. Berenson denied the charge.

Berenson reportedly also stockpiled weapons and gathered information for the guerrillas.

The Peruvian military tribunal sentenced Berenson to life in prison. The harsh sentence came as a surprise, since prosecutors had asked for a 30-year term, the minimum sentence for treason in Peru. In addition, the identity of the military judge was concealed, and Berenson's lawyers were not allowed to cross-examine witnesses.

Grimaldo Achahui, Berenson's Peruvian lawyer called the decision a "travesty of justice," said the Times article. "There was not one piece of concrete evidence presented to show that Lori had committed treason. It was all conjecture," he said.

Achahui plans to appeal to a higher military court which has the power to overturn the conviction and send it to a civil court on lesser charges of terrorism or collaboration.

"If it is a crime to worry about the inhuman condition in which the majority of this population lives, I will accept my punishment," said Berenson in a press conference after her sentencing.

"I love this nation, and although this love is going to cause me years in prison, I will never stop loving it," she said. "I will never lose the hope and confidence that tomorrow there will be justice in Peru," she added

Family contests ruling

Berenson's family said it was "angered and upset to learn that the government of Peru, acting through a faceless, secret military tribunal, has pronounced Lori guilty of treason against Peru."

"This is outrageous," Mark Berenson, Lori's father said. "Lori is a pacifist, opposed to every form of violence, and has devoted her young life to helping the poor and oppressed. She would never hurt anyone."

The State Department stated that it "deeply regrets that Ms. Berenson was not tried in an open civilian court with full rights of legal defense, in accordance with international judicial norms."

"The United States remains concerned that Ms. Berenson receive due process. We have repeatedly expressed these concerns to the Government of Peru The United States will continue to follow this case closely," said the State Department.

Dan McGuire contributed to the reporting of this story.