The US’ Lori Berenson is barred from leaving Peru

NO CHRISTMAS CHEER::The former MIT student can not go home for Christmas after serving 15 years of a 20-year sentence for helping plan an attack on Congress


Mon, Dec 19, 2011 - Page 7

Peru’s government abused its authority by barring paroled US activist Lori Berenson and her 31-month-old son from leaving the country to spend the holidays in New York City with her family, her lawyer said on Saturday.

“Administratively, you can’t block a court order,” Anibal Apari said after Berenson said that she and her son, Salvador, were prevented from boarding a flight on Friday night despite being granted permission in court.

“They didn’t let me leave and they’re putting out this version that I arrived late,” she said in a brief telephone conversation.

Local media had initially reported, citing unnamed airport officials, that Berenson arrived late for the flight. However, video taken by a local TV channel showed her pacing nervously in front the Continental Airlines ticket counter and talking with an agent more than an hour before the flight left.

“An abuse of authority has been committed,” Apari said.

Apari, who is Salvador’s father, but is separated from Berenson, blamed the Peruvian Interior Ministry directly and said no official explanation had been provided.

Peruvian Interior Ministry Communications Director Zully Bismark said she was not immediately able to address the issue when reached on Saturday afternoon.

Berenson, 42, was paroled last year after serving 15 years for aiding the Tupac Amaru leftist rebel group.

Arrested in 1995, the former Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) student was accused of helping the rebels plan an armed takeover of Peruvian Congress, an attack that never happened.

A military court convicted her the following year and sentenced her to life in prison for sedition. After the US government pressured Peruvian officials, she was retried in civil courts in 2001 and sentenced to 20 years for terrorist collaboration.

A three-judge appeals court had given her permission to leave the country beginning on Friday, with the stipulation she return by Jan. 11.

The panel had overturned a lower-court judge’s initial refusal in October.

Peruvian anti-terrorism prosecutor Julio Galindo said he had asked the appeals court on Friday to nullify the decision because it violated a law prohibiting paroled prisoners from leaving the country.

He said he did not know if the court had acted on his appeal and Peru’s courts spokesman, Guillermo Gonzalez, said he had no information on the matter.

Berenson’s parents, often outspoken on her behalf, did not respond on Saturday to telephone calls seeking comment.

Some Peruvians consider Berenson a terrorist and have publicly insulted her on the street.

Galindo had opposed letting Berenson out of prison before her 20-year sentence for aiding terrorism ends in 2015, saying it would set a bad precedent for the early release of others convicted of terrorism-related crimes.

Mark Berenson, who turns 70 on Dec. 29, said on Friday that his daughter had every intention of returning to Peru.

“As Lori says, if she doesn’t come home, let Interpol arrest her,” he said.

Peru could seek her extradition and return her to prison if she did not come back in the allotted time, Gonzalez said.

On Saturday, Berenson left her apartment around midday to take Salvador for a walk and did not comment to new crews other than to ask them to leave her in peace.

Her journey from prison inmate to parolee has been anguished and Peruvian news media have repeatedly hounded and mobbed her and frightened young Salvador, Mark Berenson said.

Last month, a local TV channel obtained Lori Berenson’s new address and showed video of her home. Her father complained that the act endangered his daughter and said the US Embassy had complained.

Lori “just wants to be a low-profile person and get on with her life and be a good citizen,” Mark Berenson said, adding that he planned to appeal to Peruvian President Ollanta Humala to send his daughter home.