Lori Berenson, convicted American terrorist, sent back to Peru prison

Lori Berenson was released on parole three months ago. But the mother of a 15-month old was sent back to prison Wednesday, after a judge in Peru struck down her parole. Berenson has served 15 years of a 20-year sentence. She was convicted of aiding Peruvian leftist rebels.

By , Associated Press

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    American Lori Berenson, carrying her 15-month-old son, Salvador, arrives to the Justice Palace in Lima, Peru, Wednesday Aug. 18, 2010. Berenson, a US activist convicted of aiding leftist rebels, surrendered to police on Wednesday after a court ordered her arrest and struck down a decision granting her parole.
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Lori Berenson, an American activist convicted of aiding leftist rebels surrendered to police Wednesday after a court struck down a decision granting her parole and ordered her to return to prison, where she is to remain with her 15-month-old son for the time being.

Berenson was arrested by police at the U.S. Embassy, where she was at what her father called a "regular consular meeting" to keep embassy officials apprised of her situation.

"She's calm. She is a very strong woman," her husband and lawyer, Anibal Apari, told reporters outside the embassy. "She is going to return to jail with her baby."

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As she was led to a courthouse cell, Berenson carried her son in her arms.

Television footage later showed Berenson being taken to the Chorrillos women's prison in an ambulance. It is common practice in Peru to transfer prisoners in ambulances.

The ruling by the three-judge panel of the criminal appeals court was announced two days after the 40-year-old New Yorker appeared at a hearing, apologizing for her crime and asking the court to uphold her parole. Berenson told the court on Monday that she regrets her actions and hoped to focus on raising on her son, Salvador.

In an interview on Monday with three Lima-based journalists, Berenson said her case had become a political football in an election year: Some former rebels are running for office in state and municipal elections in October, and Berenson is viewed by many Peruvians as a symbol of the left-wing violence that afflicted the nation two decades ago.

"I think there are various people ó not all of them are politicians – who think this is an issue where it looks good to be a hard-liner. It even seems like there's competition to see who can be the toughest on this issue," she said in the interview, a recording of which was provided to The Associated Press.

Berenson has acknowledged collaborating with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, but said she was never a member of the group nor involved in violent acts.

She has so far served 15 years of a 20-year prison sentence for terrorist collaboration.

President Alan Garcia has the power to commute Berenson's sentence, which would allow for her immediate deportation. But he has said he will wait for justice to run its course before making any decision.

Deputy Justice Minister Luis Marill said the court struck down the May 27 decision that granted Berenson's parole ó a decision that was widely unpopular in Peru.

The appeals court annulled the decision because Berenson's defense had not promptly complied with a requirement to notify police of the address where she would live upon her release, a process that also required verification by authorities. The ruling returned the case to the lower court judge who authorized the parole.

Apari expressed confidence the judge could rule again in two or three weeks once that issue is resolved, saying "it's only that her domicile needs to be verified."

Julio Galindo, the government's lead anti-terrorism prosecutor, told the Peruvian radio station Radioprogramas that the process is likely to take about two months and that if the judge decides in Berenson's favor again, she would go free.

Marill called it "probable" that the judge could decide to free Berenson again on parole, but added: "That's going to depend a great deal on the efforts of the prosecutor's office" and other factors, including police reports.

Her father, Mark Berenson, told the AP that the parole decision was "was annulled on a technicality."

"We are still in an unsure position," he said in an e-mail exchange in which he was asked if he and his wife would remain in Lima for now. "We haven't figured out our future plans – we are still numb."

In the interview Monday, Berenson said that what pained her the most was the thought of being separated from her son. Peruvian penal regulations dictate thatchildren may only stay with jailed mothers until age 3.

Mark Berenson says the boy has both U.S. and Peruvian passports.

Berenson was initially accused of being a leader of the Tupac Amaru, which bombed banks and kidnapped and killed civilians in the 1980s and 1990s.

When she was arrested in November 1995 with the wife of the group's leader, prosecutors said Berenson was helping plot a takeover of Peru's Congress.
She was convicted of treason by a military court in 1996 and sentenced to life. But after an intense campaign by her parents and pressure from the U.S. government, she was retried in a civilian court. In 2001 it convicted her of the lesser crime of terrorist collaboration and sentenced her to 20 years.
Galindo, the prosecutor, has argued there were errors in the ruling that granted parole, including that Berenson's time served in prison was incorrectly calculated. He also questioned whether Berenson has cut all links to the rebel group.

Berenson is widely remembered in Peru for steadfastly defending the Tupac Amaru rebels for long after her 1995 arrest. She maintained she was a political prisoner even after her 2000 retrial.

Many Peruvians disapproved of Berenson's release, and congressmen of multiple parties praised the ruling to send her back behind bars.
"I think we shouldn't give a single millimeter to terrorism," said lawmaker Carlos Raffo, who belongs to the party of former President Alberto Fujimori, during whose government Berenson was prosecuted and imprisoned.

After her arrest Wednesday, Berenson was taken to a courthouse cell to await being taken to prison.
Associated Press Writer Frank Bajak in Northampton, Massachusetts, contributed to this report.

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