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Students Hold Rally For Lori Berenson

Parents of Former MIT Student Currently Serving Life Sentence in Peru Speak at Event

By Kevin R. Lang

news editor

Four years, four months, and ten days into former MIT undergraduate Lori H. Berenson’s life sentence for high treason in Peru, her parents Mark and Rhoda Berenson spoke on her behalf in 10-250.

Berenson was sentenced to life in prison by a Peruvian military tribunal in 1996 on charges of high treason and terrorist activity. However, Berenson and her family have continuously maintained her innocence.

“Lori went to Peru because she was concerned about the abuse of human rights,” Rhoda Berenson said. “We have never seen specific charges against Lori.”

Mark Berenson spoke of his daughter living without light, heat, and running water for the past four years, living on 69 cents worth of food each day.

“These are violations of ... United Nations rules for the treatment of prisoners,” Mark Berenson said. “She’s totally cut off from the world.”

Peru has defended the use of military tribunals because rebel groups like the Shining Path and the TÚpac Amaru Resistance Movement intimidated civilian judges to get lenient sentences.

Mark Berenson said that Lori has been in poor health for several years now, including the partial loss of vision in one eye. He attributed her health problems to malnutrition at high altitude and a lack of adequate medical treatment.

Berenson was originally held in a maximum security facility several miles above sea level in the Andes, but Peruvian officials moved her to a minimum security prison at a lower elevation shortly before she was scheduled to appear at an international hearing. However, Berenson was kept in solitary confinement for 116 days in the second prison, and still is allowed only limited outside contact. Her parents are allowed one hour of visitation time every few weeks.

Peru cast Berenson as terrorist

After her arrest, Berenson was given one opportunity to speak publicly.

“This did her in,” Mark Berenson said. Lori Berenson used her opportunity to speak out against poverty and injustice in Peru; the Peruvian media used her speech to cast her as a terrorist.

According to Mark Berenson, Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori claimed that Berenson admitted her guilt in this speech.

At the time, Berenson said “if it is a crime to worry about the inhuman condition in which the majority of this population lives, I will accept my punishment.”

New efforts to free Lori

Berenson’s parents will head to Washington this week to lobby before Congress on her behalf. Under U.S. law, the president is required to take action to free U.S. citizens wrongfully imprisoned abroad.

“The law is on our side,” Mark Berenson said. “It is time for Mr. Clinton to fulfill his obligation as President of the United States.”

Paul Parravano from MIT’s office of government and community relations spoke about MIT’s efforts on Lori Berenson’s behalf. “This is a haunting story that I urge all of you to think about,” Parravano said. “We want her back.”

Berenson’s cause is currently supported by the United Nations and many human rights groups. “Peru has snubbed the United Nations,” Mark Berenson said.

Berenson’s parents were highly critical of the State Department for their lack of action.

Local activist James Williamson presented a resolution passed at Monday’s Cambridge City Council meeting in support of Berenson. The council recognized that Berenson was “wrongfully imprisoned” and voted to support her release.

Berenson, now 29, withdrew from MIT in 1988. She was arrested Nov. 30, 1995 for allegedly aiding the Marxist TÚpac Amaru Resistance guerrilla movement.

The talk was co-sponsored by the MIT Social Justice Cooperative and Amnesty International. The Social Justice Cooperative is currently circulating a petition for Berenson’s release. Several dozen students, faculty, and supporters attended.