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American Appeals Peru Jail Sentence

January 22, 2002

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LIMA, Peru (AP) _ Imprisoned American Lori Berenson asked Peru’s highest appeals court on Tuesday to overturn her 20-year prison term for collaborating with leftist rebels in a plot to seize Peru’s Congress.

Berenson’s defense attorney, Jose Luis Sandoval, made the plea before a five-judge panel of the Supreme Court that handles appeals. Berenson, 32, of New York was not present.

Presiding Justice Guillermo Cabala adjourned the hearing after brief arguments from Sandoval and prosecuting attorney Ysaias Tamayo.

The court has up to 15 working days to reach a decision, Supreme Court spokesman Andiolo Zevallos said.

Berenson considers herself a political prisoner and has said that authorities unfairly portrayed her concern for social justice for the poor as a terrorist agenda.

``The evidence presented is insufficient to justify a conviction,″ Sandoval said after the hearing. ``She has been convicted on the basis of subjective elements and on the basis of her ideas and actions that have nothing to do with the accusation.″

Prosecutors, however, say she was a terrorist who aided the leftist Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement guerrilla group in a thwarted bid to attack Peru’s Congress in 1995.

Tamayo, an anti-terrorism advocate from the Interior Ministry, asked the court to confirm the sentence, which he said ``was carried out with the maximum guarantee of due process.″

A secret military tribunal in 1996 sentenced Berenson to life in prison without parole on charges she was a rebel leader. But a higher military tribunal overturned the ruling in August 2000 and sent the case to a civilian anti-terrorism court.

The civilian court convicted her in June of terrorist collaboration for aiding the rebels by renting a house that served as their hide-out and posing as a journalist to enter Congress to gather intelligence with a top rebel commander’s wife. She was acquitted of being a member of the rebel group.

Berenson has acknowledged renting the house, but said she did not know her housemates were rebels.

She was sentenced to 20 years in prison but is due to be released in 2015 because she had already served five years under an earlier terrorist conviction by a military tribunal.

Berenson was transferred last month from a prison in Lima to one high in the Andes near Cajamarca, 350 miles north of the capital.

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