Lori Helene Berenson, a former MIT student and political activist imprisoned in Peru, was granted parole on Tuesday, May 25, 2010. 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’s release provoked controversy in a country still traumatized by a conflict that killed some 70,000 people, Reuters said.
According to Reuters on Monday, a Peruvian official has branded Berenson a “public nuisance” and said the government may decide to deport her soon. Since her release, Berenson has been living in Lima and protestors have gathered to demand her removal from the country.
“I don’t think Ms. Berenson can hurt society, (but) I certainly think she’s a public nuisance, and a political problem,” Peruvian Justice Minister Victor Garcia told Reuters. Garcia also said that President Alan Garcia will determine if Berenson is to be allowed to leave Peru.
“Berenson had for many years denied any wrongdoing, maintaining she was a political prisoner and not a terrorist,” the Associated Press said.
According to Reuters, Berenson’s family has said that she was wrongly convicted, and has never taken up arms.
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.
In an email on Monday, Mark Berenson told The Tech that he and his wife are currently in Lima. He also said that Lori will not be able to give any interview until she is on US soil. “It is not yet clear when she is going to be allowed to return,” Mark Berenson said.
Mark Berenson told The New York 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 twenty years in prison, with five 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 last Tuesday.
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 last Tuesday.
MIT Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy Noam Chomsky, who serves on the advisory board of the Committee to Free Lori Berenson, issued a statement on 1999 in support of Berenson. In his statement, Chomsky wrote, “With immense courage and self-sacrifice, [Berenson] is not only standing up with honor and dignity for her own rights, but for the great number of people of Peru who are suffering severe repression and extreme economic hardship as a consequence of policies that sacrifice much of the population to the greed and power of small sectors of privilege — in Peru itself, and in the deeply unjust and coercive global system that has been constructed to yield such outcomes.” Chomsky also called Berenson a prisoner of conscience.
Berenson spent many years in a 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.
At the time of Berenson’s arrest, she was married to another MRTA member, Nestor Cerpa. In 1996, it was Cerpa that led a group of MRTA rebels who took hundreds of diplomats and officials hostage at the Japanese ambassador’s house, Reuters said.
Berenson sat quietly in the Lima prison courtroom as Judge Jessica León read the ruling on May 25, 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’s sentence officially ends in November 2015, and she may not be able to leave Peru until that date.
An earlier version of this article ran on our website on Wednesday, May 26. This article is a summary from wire stories.