History of Lori Berenson’s arrest and detention
The Peruvian military antiterrorist police arrested Lori in the late afternoon of November 30, 1995 on a bus in downtown Lima. He had just left Congress where he was conducting research for articles he was preparing for the American magazines, “Modern Times” and “Third World Viewpoint.” Until August 28, 2000, when the Supreme Court of Military Justice overturned her sentence and conviction, Lori had been serving a life sentence without the option of parole in Peru’s terribly harsh maximum security prisons. She was originally charged with “treason,” according to accusations of a leadership role in the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA).
After the annulment of her sentence, Lori was tried again in civil jurisdiction and sentenced to 20 years for alleged collaboration with the MRTA.
Lori never had anything like a process. She was never even formally notified of the charges against her. From 1992 to 1997, people accused of treason or terrorism in Peru were convicted by judges with their faces concealed. In military courts, judges do not need to have any legal training. The military courts had a 97% conviction rate, and a host of internationally unacceptable practices.
Lori always maintained that she is innocent of the charges issued. She has said that she was never a member, least of all a leader of the MRTA. She has also made it clear that she could never get involved in terrorist acts.
Arrest, Interrogation, press presentation, and “trial.”
November 1995: the Arrest
- As night fell on November 30, 1995, Lori was forcibly removed from a public bus in Lima, Peru after attending a session of the Peruvian Congress. He was gathering information for articles he wrote for two North American publications: Modern Times and Third World Viewpoint.
- Later that night, there was a shooting in Lima’s affluent La Molina Vieja neighborhood. 19 suspected members of the MRTA were arrested. The target was a house where the Peruvian antiterrorist police (DINCOTE) found weapons and ammunition. The MRTA was accused of planning an assault on Congress and kidnapping some of its members with the purpose of exchanging them for prisoners accused as Emeretistas.
December 1995: The interrogation
- Lori was interrogated day and night for nine days without any legal representation.
- On December 9, 1995, Lori was required to give her official testimony before DINCOTE headquarters in an 11-hour session, without having had any prior access to a lawyer. Her attorney, hired the evening before, was not allowed to meet with Lori before giving her testimony. He was allowed to be present at the process, but not to give Lori legal assistance.
- During the process, Lori was only allowed to answer questions, but not to present evidence in her favor. Her attorney was also not allowed to ask questions of the witnesses who testified against her.
January 1996: Presentation and “Process”
- On January 3, 1996, Lori’s attorney was given less than two hours to examine a 2,000-page file detailing the allegations and alleging evidence against Lori and 19 other co-defendants arrested in the November 30 confrontation.
- On January 4, 1996, the prosecutor (a member of the armed forces) met with the judge, presented his case, and recommended that Lori receive a 30-year sentence for treason against Peru. Neither Lori nor her lawyer were allowed to attend this meeting to hear what the prosecutor had to say.
- On the morning of January 8, 1996, Lori’s lawyer appeared before the judge “without a face” (hooded) and argued that she was innocent of the charges. Neither Lori nor the prosecutor were present.
- On the afternoon of January 8, 1996, Lori was introduced to the press. This came after 11 days of being in a miserable rat-infested cell shared with a seriously injured woman who was denied necessary medical care. This was physically and psychologically overwhelming for Lori and left her very sensitive to the inhumane treatment of her cellmate by the Peruvian government. This was clearly the intention of the Peruvian government. Lori was then introduced to the press, and warned that she had to shout to be heard, and what resulted was a fierce criticism of Peruvian injustice. Observers perceived militancy, defiance, and admission of guilt, even though there was no such admission.
- On January 11, 1996, while a hooded soldier held a pistol to her head, a hooded judge declared her the leader of the MRTA. He sentenced her to life imprisonment in a maximum security military prison without the possibility of parole.
- Two weeks after sentencing, Lori’s attorney made written and oral presentations to the hooded military judges who had been assigned to review the case. He pointed out the violations of Peruvian law in the process against Lori, the weakness of the circumstantial evidence, and the inappropriateness of the charge of treason. He made the request to move the case to civil court. (Lori was not allowed to participate in this or the final review process. She had already been transferred to the Yanamayo Prison to begin serving her sentence on January 17.
- On January 30, 1996, the court reviewing the case announced its decision to maintain a life sentence.
- In March 1996, a final appeal was made to the five members of the Supreme Military Court, who again confirmed life imprisonment without parole. The Court declined to recommend this case to the civil courts for public prosecution.
Transfer to the Socabaya Prison
- On October 7, 1998, Lori was transferred to the Socabaya Prison in Arequipa, one day before a public hearing on a January 22, 1998 petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was to take place in Washington DC. The Peruvian government told the Commission that it had transferred Lori from the severe Yanamayo Prison located in the frigid Andes at an altitude of more than 4,000 meters to demonstrate its respect for human rights. He admitted that Lori had suffered serious medical problems in Yanamayo.The Socabaya Prison for Women was not a maximum security prison and, as Lori was a maximum security prisoner, she was not allowed any interaction with the general prison population. She was placed in total isolation in a separate wing where for four months she was not allowed to see, hear or speak to other prisoners. The guards who brought Lori food three times a day to her cell did not converse with her, and during her hour of time a day allowed in the courtyard, she was also alone.Following two Urgent Action Alerts from Amnesty International, citing cruel inhuman treatment and psychological torture under Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, together with the help of the Catholic Church and the International Committee of the Cross Roja, Lori’s total isolation was ended in January 1999 when other maximum security prisoners were brought to Socabaya and placed in the same ward.Lori remained in the Socabaya Prison until August 31, 2000, when she was transferred to Lima and placed in the maximum security prison for women in Santa Mónica de Chorrillos, so that she can “participate” in her civil trial that had begun. three days earlier, the same day that the Supreme Council of Military Justice had overturned his conviction for treason and his life sentence.