Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lori Berenson asks to remain free on parole in Peru

The Associated Press
Monday, January 10, 2011

LIMA, Peru -- U.S. activist Lori Berenson asked a Peruvian court
Monday not to revoke her parole and send her back to prison to finish
a 20-year sentence for aiding leftist rebels, saying she regrets her
actions and is not a danger to society.

Speaking at a hearing in the capital, Lima, Berenson said she wants
to dedicate herself to raising her young son, born while she was behind bars.

"I reaffirm everything said in the Aug. 18 hearing: That I believe I
am not a danger to society, that I acknowledge my responsibility in
the crime I committed and that I feel repentant about it," Berenson
told the judges.

Berenson was first granted parole May 27 after serving three-quarters
of her sentence, then was sent back to prison Aug. 18 on a
technicality. The same judge who first freed Berenson reinstated her
parole in November.

However prosecutors are still fighting the decision.

Prosecutor Julio Galindo said Berenson was improperly allowed to
apply for time off due to work or study, a benefit that should not be
available to those convicted of terrorism.

"In our judgment ... the prisoner Lori Berenson should not be free at
this time," Galindo said Monday.

Anibal Apari, Berenson's attorney and the father of her son, disputed
that argument, saying Peruvian law does not prohibit sentence
reduction and parole in terror convictions.

Berenson was arrested in 1995 and accused of helping the leftist
Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement plan an armed takeover of
Congress. The attack never happened, but prosecutors said that among
other things, Berenson helped the group 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, she was retried in civil courts 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
in a letter for any hurt she may have caused.

Yet she is viewed by many as a symbol of the 1980-2000 rebel conflict
that claimed 80,000 lives. The fanatical Maoist Shining Path movement
did most of the killing, while Tupac Amaru was a lesser player.

"Lori Berenson has been made into the personification of political
violence in a totally disproportionate creation," Apari said at
Monday's hearing.

Berenson has acknowledged helping the Tupac Amaru rent the safe house
where authorities seized a cache of weapons after a shootout, but she
insists she didn't know guns were being stored there. She denies ever
belonging to Tupac Amaru or engaging in violent acts.

The court has 15 workdays to decide whether to revoke parole.

If Berenson is ultimately sent back to serve out the remainder of her
sentence, it could mean separation from her 20-month-old son,
Salvador, since children cannot live with their mothers in Peru's
prisons past age three.

"I am living in society, I am dedicating myself full-time to my
child," Berenson told the judges. "It is my right and my duty to do
so. ... I hope not to lose him."

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