Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Peruvian court: No more prison for Lori Berenson

By CARLA SALAZAR, Associated Press Jan 24, 2011

LIMA, Peru – A Peruvian appeals court rejected a prosecutor's attempt to
revoke the parole of U.S. activist Lori Berenson, who was released in May
after serving 15 years for aiding leftist rebels.

Berenson and her attorney told The Associated Press on Monday that the
ruling is final and cannot be appealed by prosecutors, ending eight months
of excruciating legal purgatory.

"I'm pleased with the decision and grateful for it," Berenson said by
telephone, adding that she was "greatly relieved."

"The only thing that she can do now, with tranquility, is to plan her
life," said Anibal Apari, her attorney and the father of Berenson's
20-month-old son, Salvador.

Under her parole, the 41-year-old New Yorker cannot leave Peru until her
20-year sentence ends in 2015 — unless President Alan Garcia decides to
commute it. He has said he would consider doing so only once the legal
case ran its course.

Constitutional law expert Mario Amoretti agreed that the ruling should be
final. He said the state could conceivably file a challenge claiming a
constitutional violation but that he didn't see the grounds for such an

Berenson was first freed in May only to be sent back to prison for three
months on a technicality. The judge who originally granted parole
reinstated that decision and released the New Yorker again, but
anti-terroism Prosecutor Julio Galindo continued to appeal.

The three-judge appeals court's decision — dated Jan. 18 but made public
Monday — rejected Galindo's argument that, as someone convicted of aiding
terrorists, Berenson should not have been able to use work and study to
reduce her sentence.

The judges also cited a psychological report that said Berenson had
"developed projects for a future life, grounded in motherhood" and had, in
essence, been rehabilitated.

Reached by the AP on Monday, Galindo said he had not read the decision and
would not comment.

Asked what she plans to do now, Berenson said: "I'm just going to go on
with my life, basically." She and Apari are separated, though the two
remain close friends.

Berenson has said she wants only to return to her native New York, where
her parents are university professors, and devote herself to Salvador.

"I want to redo my life, live as a normal person," she told the AP in a
November interview in her rented apartment in Lima's upscale Miraflores
district. She said she hopes to earn a living as a translator.

Reached at his home in New York, her father, Mark Berenson said Monday
that he and his wife, Rhoda, were "thrilled."

Berenson said the news of his daughter's parole appeared in the Peruvian
newspaper La Republica on Saturday but could not be verified until today
because the courts were closed.

"It was a tremendous relief," he said.

Had Berenson been forced back behind bars, Peruvian prison rules stipulate
that Salvador could not have stayed with her after reaching age 3. Mark
Berenson said he and his wife might have had to move to Peru to care for
the boy.

"None of that is necessary now, and fortunately we can go on with our
lives," he said.

Since her parole in May, Lori Berenson has repeatedly expressed regret for
aiding the rebel Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement.

Arrested in 1995, she was accused of helping the rebels plan an armed
takeover of Congress, an attack that never happened.

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.

Yet she is viewed by many as a symbol of the 1980-2000 rebel conflict that
claimed some 70,000 lives. The fanatical Maoist Shining Path movement did
most of the killing, while Tupac Amaru was a lesser player.

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

In the November interview, Berenson said she was deeply troubled at having
become Peru's "face of terrorism."

Its most famous prisoner, she also became a politically convenient
scapegoat, she said.


Associated Press writer Frank Bajak in Bogota, Colombia, and Karen
Matthews in New York contributed to this report.

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