Monday, November 08, 2010

American Lori Berenson freed from Peru prison

By CARLA SALAZAR The Associated Press

LIMA, Peru — American activist Lori Berenson walked free from a Peruvian prison Monday for the second time after serving three-quarters of a 20-year sentence for collaborating with leftist rebels.

US citizen Lori Berenson, left, puts her fingerprint on a document at a courthouse in Lima, Peru, Friday, Nov. 5, 2010. A Peruvian judge granted parole to Berenson after 15 years in prison for aiding leftist rebels. (AP Photo/Karel Navarro)

Her legal troubles are not over, however, as Peru's top anti-terrorism prosecutor has appealed her parole.

The 40-year-old New York woman and her lawyer and husband, Anibal Apari, arrived by taxi just after dark two blocks from her Lima apartment after slipping out a side door at the prison where she was jailed again in August on a technicality.

"I will not be making any statements at this time," Berenson told reporters as she carried in a black backpack and a green shopping bag.

The couple's 18-month-old son, Salvador, awaited them at the apartment along with Berenson's mother, Rhoda, who had spirited the child out of the prison several hours earlier.

Apari told The Associated Press that Berenson planned to speak to news media but wanted first to rest.

He told reporters that Berenson was "once again trying to adjust, and organizing her things" at the residence in Lima's upscale Miraflores district, where he said she plans to spend her time working and studying.

Berenson was initially paroled in May, and the same judge who first freed Berenson reinstated her parole Friday.

The former Massachusetts Institute of Technology student must remain in Peru until her full sentence is served — unless President Alan Garcia decides to commute it.

Garcia has indicated he will not consider a decision until all of the legal issues in the case have been resolved.

The prosecutor, Julio Galindo, claims Berenson has not fully qualified for parole.

He contends her case could establish a precedent for others convicted of terrorism-related crimes to argue that they, too, should go free.

"Our goal is to achieve the revocation" of Berenson's parole, Galindo said Monday. "This is a very sensitive matter for the country." He said an appeals court could decide in less than a month.

Many of Berenson's new neighbors protested vehemently the first time she was released but the neighborhood was peaceful Monday evening. About a half hour after her arrival, six riot police officers with shields arrived and took up positions at the entrance to her apartment building.

Berenson was arrested in 1995 and accused of helping the leftist Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement plan an armed takeover of Congress. The takeover never happened, but prosecutors said that among other things, Berenson had helped the group to rent a safe house.

A military court convicted her the following year and sentenced her to life in prison for sedition, but after intense U.S. government pressure for a civilian trial she was retried in 2001 and sentenced to 20 years for terrorist collaboration.

Berenson was completely unrepentant at the time of her arrest but softened during years of sometimes harsh prison conditions, eventually being praised as a model prisoner.

In May, she apologized to Peruvians in a letter for any hurt she may have caused.

Yet she is viewed by many Peruvians as a symbol of the rebel violence that afflicted the nation two decades ago.

Many people remain traumatized by the 1980-2000 conflict that claimed 80,000 lives. In that conflict, the fanatical Maoist Shining Path movement did most of the killing, while Tupac Amaru was a lesser player.

Berenson denies ever belonging to Tupac Amaru or engaging in violent acts.

In August, when she was returned to prison, Berenson said in an interview with three Lima-based journalists that her case had become a political football with presidential elections due in April.


Associated Press writer Franklin Briceno contributed to this report.

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