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Berenson on Hunger Strike to Protest Conditions

By Frank Dabek

Lori Berenson, a former MIT student convicted of high treason by a Peruvian military tribunal, has begun a hunger strike to protest the conduct of her trial and draw attention to the conditions under which she is serving out her life sentence.

Gail Taylor, national coordinator for The Committee to Free Lori Berenson said that the hunger strike began on January 11, the fourth anniversary of Berenson’s conviction on charges treason. Berenson was allegedly involved with the Marxists Tupac Amaru terrorist group.

Taylor said that Berenson has not made any demands but was protesting the conditions of her incarceration. “The prison conditions are absolutely horrendous,” Taylor said.

Berenson was initially jailed high in the Andes mountains but was moved to a lower altitude jail when her health declined. Now she has been “taken out of contact with humans,” Taylor said, and the incarceration has affected her mental state.

Berenson has not set a timeframe for her strike and Taylor expects her to continue “as long as she physically can,” perhaps several weeks.

Supporters hold vigils nationwide

On the same day that Berenson began her hunger strike, supporters held vigils across the country.

In the Boston area, Carolyn Austin, a regional coordinator of the committee, organized a vigil in the South Station area. Austin become involved in the effort after seeing Lori’s story in the news. “I couldn’t believe that she was still there,” Austin said.

James Williamson, a longtime supporter of Berenson’s cause and one of the about 50 people at the rally, said, “the point is that she has never received any due process and deserved to be released.”

Berenson’s mother, Rhoda, in an interview in the New York Daily News, said that she was not surprised that Lori had begun the hunger strike and was anxious about her health but respected her decision and commitment.

Austin urges those interested in the case to contact the President and their Congressional representatives. Detailed contact information can be found at <>

Failed legal attempts to free Lori

The House of Representatives defeated legislation in July that would have withheld all but humanitarian aid to Peru if Berenson was not freed.

The American ambassador to Peru, John Hamilton, has also been in negotiations with the Peruvian government concerning Berenson.

The Peruvian government seems unwilling to grant Berenson a new trial, however. Prime Minister Alberto Bustamante said recently that Berenson will not receive a new trial unless she can produce new evidence of her innocence.