Saturday, December 17, 2011

US activist Lori Berenson heads to NY for holidays after Peruvian court OKs travel

December 17, 2011 by FRANK BAJAK , Associated Press

LIMA, Peru - Paroled U.S. activist Lori Berenson was headed for New York early Saturday after a Peruvian court ruled she and her toddler son could travel there for the holidays, airport security officials said.

Peru's ATV television showed video of Berenson and her 2 1/2-year-old son, Salvador at the airport in front of a ticket counter late Friday and said she was flying to New York.

Reached by cell phone, Berenson refused to comment.

But airport security officials told reporters she was flying directly to New York on an overnight flight.

A three-judge appeals court on Wednesday overturned a lower court judge's ruling denying Berenson permission to travel, said Guillermo Gonzalez, spokesman for Peru's judicial system.

He said Berenson, who was paroled last year after serving 15 years for aiding leftist rebels, was given permission to leave the country beginning Friday but must return by Jan. 11.

Earlier, her father Mark told The Associated Press she has every intention of returning to Peru.

The terms of her parole dictate that she cannot leave until her sentence as an accomplice to terrorism ends in 2015.

"As Lori says, if she doesn't come home, let Interpol arrest her," Mark Berenson said.

Peru could seek her extradition and return her to prison if she doesn't return in the allotted time, Gonzalez said.

Her father said he was "petrified" a negative local reaction to the New York visit could prevent the trip, including celebrating his 70th birthday Dec. 29.

"My worry is that there's going to be screaming to stop this," he said. Some Peruvians consider her a terrorist, opposed her parole and have publicly insulted her on the street.

There was no indication that Berenson encountered any trouble departing. The ATV video showed her pacing in front of a ticket counter, wearing a bulky black backpack, with Salvador in a stroller beside her. She wore pants and a brown polo shirt.

Berenson has been repeatedly hounded and mobbed by Peruvian news media, which has occasionally frightened young Salvador. Last month, one TV channel obtained her new address and showed video of her home.

"It was very dangerous," Mark Berenson said. "The (U.S.) Embassy complained."

"It's just not fair to Salvador or to her," he said. "They used her like she's a celebrity and she just wants to be a low-profile person and get on with her life and be a good citizen."

He said he would appeal to President Ollanta Humala to send his daughter home.

Humala could by law commute her sentence but has not indicated whether he might do so. The AP sought presidential palace comment but its calls were not returned.

Lori Berenson is separated from Salvador's father, Anibal Apari, whom she met in prison and who serves as her lawyer.

He told the AP that she had originally filed for permission to leave the country in October but was denied.

Mark Berenson said his daughter is looking forward to seeing relatives she hasn't met since her 20s, including his 96-year-old aunt, and that he wants his grandson, who loves trees, see the New York Botanical Garden's holiday display.

Since her initial parole in May 2010, Lori Berenson repeatedly expressed regret for aiding the rebel Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement.

Arrested in 1995, the former MIT student 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 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 an interview with the AP last year, 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 Martin Villena contributed to this report.

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