The Civil Trial Of Lori Berenson
Procedures for terrorism-related cases in civil courts consist of three phases. In the first phase, the Investigative Phase, an “investigative” judge, in the case of Lori Judge Romel Borda, takes testimony from the accused and from witnesses. The second phase, the Public Phase or hearings, is a trial before a panel of three judges, in the case of Lori, Chief Judge Marcos Ibazeta, Judge Eliana Elder Araujo and Judge Carlos Augusto Manrique. There is no jury. After the court’s verdict comes the third phase, the Appeal Phase. The defense and / or the prosecution can request the Supreme Court for Terrorism to review the decision.
“Process” or “Inquisition”?
Many Peruvian intellectuals were appalled by the process. Writer Eduardo González Viana referred to Lori’s trial as the “Return of the Spanish Inquisition to Lima” and writer Alfredo Pita wrote a letter to the Peruvian government signed by more than 100 academics, artists, human rights activists, religious leaders, and medical doctors condemning the bragging on the part of the judges and prosecutors. The then US congressman and attorney, Joe Scarborough, attended one of the first public sessions, observed the situation, and said: “the court has been cruel against her.” It was clear that the three judges were working in concert with the prosecutor and the attorney in an effort to convict Lori, despite the lack of evidence.
Lori’s civil trial was full of prejudices from the day it was announced in August 2000. Prior to the start of the public phase of the process on March 20, 2001, Chief Judge Marcos Ibazeta refused to recuse himself from the case despite having been presented evidence proving his public bias against Lori in 1999. Judge Ibazeta apparently put his personal ambition over ethics. It was obvious that he wanted to participate as Chief Judge in the highly publicized process because he was also one of the five finalist candidates in the Peruvian Congress for the role of Ombudsman, an important position within the Peruvian government. The election took place during the second of the three months of the public process and, although Judge Ibazeta received the most publicity, he was not elected to the position he desired. During the course of the process, however, he used the media to the best of his ability to gain publicity for his candidacy for this prestigious position. In an interview with the newspaper El País of Spain (April 22, 2001) Judge Ibazeta incomprehensibly said that Lori would be acquitted if she could convince the court of her innocence. In this modern age, the law of Peru and the Human Rights Convention, of which Peru is a signatory, require that the state prove individual guilt, and not that the individual have to prove his innocence. In an interview with the newspaper El País of Spain (April 22, 2001) Judge Ibazeta incomprehensibly said that Lori would be acquitted if she could convince the court of her innocence. In this modern age, the law of Peru and the Human Rights Convention, of which Peru is a signatory, require that the state prove individual guilt, and not that the individual have to prove his innocence. In an interview with the newspaper El País of Spain (April 22, 2001) Judge Ibazeta incomprehensibly said that Lori would be acquitted if she could convince the court of her innocence. In this modern age, the law of Peru and the Human Rights Convention, of which Peru is a signatory, require that the state prove individual guilt, and not that the individual have to prove his innocence.
From the moment Lori’s case was taken out of the military court and sent to the civil court, the media spread the move as an example that President Fujimori was succumbing to pressure from the United States. Mr. Fujimori was attacked in the media by loyal politicians as well as his opponents for allowing the “terrorist gringa” to have a civil trial. Cabinet members joined the debate along with judges, human rights groups, and the Peruvian public. Due to the propaganda machine of the Fujimori-Montesinos duo that had represented Lori for so long as the “symbol of violence and terrorism” in Peru, the poisoned public was prejudiced against her. And now the media controlled by Fuji-Montesinism had their big break. Editorials, articles, Letters to the editor were open to promote vociferous biased opinions. Even one day before the public trial began, one of the world’s most respected representatives, Ronald Gamarra, biased against Lori in a quote from the New York Times, outrageously saying that if Lori received a fair trial she would be sentenced.
The court proceedings began on March 20, 2001 with Lori locked in a cage. She argued that, beyond the humiliation of being locked in a cage for her trial, the psychological impact of the hearing is one of guilt rather than the presumption of innocence – a violation of a fundamental right under the American Declaration of Human Rights. In the subsequent 32 sessions Lori was placed directly in front of the bars of the cage – with the dire implication that she would soon be behind the bars again.
Prior to her sentencing on June 20, 2001, Lori was allowed to address the court. For 40 minutes, in a clear, calm and passionate way, Lori maintained her innocence and once again discredited the claims of the prosecution, reaffirmed her beliefs and expressed her love for Peru, its people and its future. The Court had a recess and a few hours later it met again, and despite the fact that there was no evidence presented or testimony issued on which to base its sentence, the judges sentenced Lori to 20 years in prison for collaboration. It is interesting to note that, in its decision, the Court publicly denounced the illegitimacy of her previous military court, and acquitted Lori not only of her accusation of being a leader of the MRTA, but also acquitted her of her membership and militancy.
The EFE news service summarized Lori’s situation in a recent review: “Lori Berenson, 33, was tried twice for the same crime of terrorism, once in Military Court, and then in Civil Court,” In Legal language, this is called “being submitted twice for the same facts” – and this is just one of the many due process violations that made this trial more of a “public event” or circus rather than a legal court proceeding. . And Judge Ibazeta, obviously, not wanting to offend the media in his candidacy for Ombudsman, not once did he admonish journalists and cameramen for their lack of order and respect in court. He also stopped pointing out his biases and mistakes during the interviews,