Lori Helene Berenson, a former MIT student and political activist imprisoned in Peru, was granted parole yesterday. Berenson, who withdrew from MIT as a sophomore in 1988, has served 15 years out of a 20-year prison sentence for aiding the leftist guerilla group Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA (Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru). She is now 40 years old.
“Berenson had for many years denied any wrongdoing, maintaining she was a political prisoner and not a terrorist,” the Associated Press said.
Berenson is expected to be released today, though Peru’s government said it would appeal her release, The New York Times reported.
Berenson was a student in the anthropology and archaeology section of the humanities department at MIT when she withdrew. She first became interested in human rights activism during a UROP in anthropology, according to her parents, Mark L. and Rhoda Berenson, both retired college professors in New York. Lori Berenson went to Peru as a freelance journalist for Third World Viewpoint and Modern Times.
Mark Berenson told The Times, “This is a day I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. We’ve held hope for Lori’s release for so many years, and now we know she and Salvador can go on with life outside of prison.” Her son Salvador Anespori Apari, was born in prison in 2009.
In 1995, Berenson was accused of being a leader of the MRTA and was sentenced by an anonymous military court to life imprisonment. Under pressure from the United States, Berenson was retried by a civilian court in 2001 and sentenced to 20 years in prison, with 5 years already served.
“The U.S. State Department had pushed hard for the civilian trial, saying Berenson was denied due process by the military tribunal,” the AP said yesterday.
Her re-trial was originally seen as an effort to improve relations between the U.S. and former Peruvian strongman Alberto Fujimorii, The Times reported in 2001. The unfavorable outcome soured relations between the Clinton and Fujimori administrations, according to the AP yesterday.
Berenson spent many years in the remote prison in the mountain region of Cajamarca, but was moved to Lima in 2009 for medical care, including for her pregnancy, the AP said.
Berenson met the father of her son, Aníbal Apari, in prison and married him in 2003. Apari had been serving time for involvement with the MRTA and was paroled in 2003. Reuters said that Apari is now a lawyer and represented Berenson at her parole hearing.
Berenson sat quietly in the Lima prison courtroom as Judge Jessica León read the ruling yesterday, and then briefly hugged Apari, The Times said.
Berenson and Apari are now legally separated but remain friends, according to the AP. Berenson plans on raising Salvador as a single mother. Berenson will not be allowed to leave Peru until November 2015, when her sentence ends.