Berenson’s parole revoked in Peru

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Former MIT student Lori Berenson has been denied parole by a Peruvian Court. She had been imprisoned in the 1990s to a 20 year term for collaborating with a Marxist revolutionary group.
Paolo Aguilar—EPA

CARACAS, Venezuela — A Peruvian court said Wednesday that it had struck down a decision granting parole to Lori Berenson, the former MIT student imprisoned in the 1990s on charges of collaborating with a Marxist revolutionary group. The court ordered her to be returned to prison to complete the five years left in her 20-year sentence.

The decision was an abrupt turnabout for Berenson, 40, who turned herself in after the announcement, according to the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru’s capital. Berenson withdrew from MIT as a sophomore in 1988.

After 14 1/2 years in Peruvian prisons, including time spent in isolation in high-altitude Andean facilities, Berenson was released on parole in May when a judge decided that she had exhibited good behavior during her incarceration.

Berenson had a son while in prison about a year ago, another factor thought to have weighed on the decision to grant her parole. She and her son, Salvador, who had lived with her in prison since his birth, had recently moved into a rented apartment in Miraflores, an upscale district of Lima where she was planning to live and work as a baker.

But the Peruvian court said it voided her parole because there were discrepancies in the addresses Berenson had provided for her planned residence.

Beyond the court’s official reasoning, it was also clear that broad resentment over the release of Berenson – who is widely viewed in Peru as a symbol of the insurgents and the war against them that cost nearly 70,000 lives between 1980 and 2000 – influenced the decision.

“Berenson was sent to prison for 20 years, and she only served 14 years, five months and 25 days,” said Luis Marill del Aguila, an official in Peru’s Justice Ministry who announced the court’s ruling.

“She hasn’t even served three-fourths of her sentence,” said Marill del Aguila, adding that Berenson’s immediate arrest had been ordered.

The Justice Ministry said in a statement that the court’s decision reversing her parole could not be appealed.

But Guillermo Gonzalez, a spokesman for Peru’s Supreme Court, said the case would return to Judge Jessica Leon, who granted parole to Berenson, and that it would ultimately be up to her whether Berenson and her son would remain in prison.

“The main reason for this is in the issue of her domicile,” Gonzalez said.

Berenson’s parents, Rhoda and Mark, said their daughter’s parole had been “annulled on a technicality” that they hoped could be sorted out.

“We are still in an unsure position,” they said in an e-mail.

Berenson learned of the decision while she was at the embassy in Lima, where she was at a previously scheduled consular meeting, an official at the embassy said.

“This was a Peruvian judicial process,” James Fennell, a spokesman for the embassy, said in a statement. “Berenson voluntarily turned herself in today to Peruvian authorities in order to comply with the court’s order. With her consent, she was picked up at the embassy this afternoon by Peruvian authorities.”

Berenson’s lawyer, Anibal Apari, told local reporters that Berenson had made no effort to flee the country, despite disagreeing with the court’s decision. Apari, a former rebel who is the father of Berenson’s son, said she and Salvador would return to prison. In Peru, children are allowed to remain with their mother until age 3 if the mother is incarcerated.

Apari also questioned the court’s decision to base its ruling on doubts surrounding information about Berenson’s address.

“Everyone knows where she lives,” he said.

She was initially arrested in 1995 in Peru while enmeshed with members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement.

Andrea Zarate contributed reporting from Lima, Peru.