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Friday April 20, 2001

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UA students learn the costs of journalism, activism

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By Carrah Bechtel

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Rep from Washington talks about political prisoner in Peru

When Lori Berenson, a human rights activist, moved to Peru six years ago, she expected to work as a freelance journalist.

What she didn't expect was to be sentenced to life in prison for treason.

UA students learned about Berenson's fate yesterday afternoon from Gail Taylor, a representative from the Washington, D.C.-based Committee to Free Lori Berenson.

"She was a freelance journalist writing about things that the world wasn't ready to hear," Taylor said.

In 1994, Berenson moved to Peru while studying for her anthropology degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She wanted to research human rights under Peru's new President Alberto Fujimori who had promised to get rid of terrorist groups, Taylor said.

From the surface, Taylor said, it looked as though Fujimori kept his promise, as fighting among groups had diminished. But Berenson witnessed the opposite, and wrote about it for anthropology publications.

In November 1995, Berenson was arrested and sentenced by a military tribunal to life in prison. At the time, the tribunal - a panel of hooded judges -had a 97 percent conviction rate.

She has been a political prisoner ever since.

"If it is a crime to worry about the inhumane treatment of the people of Peru, than I do so willingly," Berenson said at press conference shortly after her arrest. "I will never stop loving these people or this country."

The Peruvian government, under new leadership, granted Berenson a new trial on August 28, 2000, and the trial is currently underway.

Berenson's mother, Rhoda Berenson, was originally scheduled to speak at the University of Arizona yesterday but decided to stay in Peru to attend the trial. In an effort to draw awareness to the trial, Berenson wrote a book, "Lori: My Daughter Wrongfully Imprisoned in Peru," chronicling her daughter's experiences.

About a dozen journalism, anthropology and Latin American studies students attended the hour-long lecture, held in the Franklin Building.

"I wish more students, especially journalism students, were here," said Karen Rosales de Wells, a journalism and political science junior. "It could happen to them someday, if they want to be foreign correspondents."

Those interested in more information about Berenson's trial can contact the Committee to Free Lori Berenson, 110 Maryland Ave., NE Suite 102, Washington, D.C., 20002.