May 29, 2010
A judge in Peru has ordered the conditional release of convicted terrorist Lori Berenson, five years in advance of the date her 20-year prison sentence was to end. The reasons for the leniency are not yet fully clear, but it appears that Berenson -- a U.S. citizen -- was being rewarded for good behavior in prison. In 1996 she was found guilty (by a controversial special court for handling terrorist cases) of abetting a terrorist organization, at a time when Peru was on the brink of anarchy. After being convicted, she served extensive time in very harsh prison conditions, sparking complaints by some human rights organizations. She is now 40 years old, and last year she gave birth to a baby boy (Salvador) in prison. Since then, however, she has become legally separated from her husband, Anibal Apari Sanchez, who also happens to be her lawyer. Mark and Rhoda Berenson, her parents, said they are ecstatic about the release. They have been lobbying for years to have the conviction overturned, without success. See CNN.com.
This abrupt judicial ruling has caused quite a stir in Peru, and not many people are sympathetic to Berenson. The congressional Justice Committee has requested a formal report on the reasons behind the decision. The president of the National Confederation of Private Business Institutions, Ricardo Briceño, asked the government to expel Berenson as soon as possible, for the good of the country. He declared "Peru doesn't want terrorists, the country wants peace and progress." See elcomercio.pe. Residents of the upscale district of Miraflores, where Berenson is now living, organized a vigil to honor the memory of those who were killed by MRTA, and to express their opposition to Berenson's presence in Peru.
For a quick background on the facts of the Berenson case, see my April 2008 blog post. Basically, she was a left-wing activist who allowed members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) to use the residence she was renting in Lima as a safe house. When security forces confronted the rebels in 1995, there was a major gun battle, after which Berenson and others were arrested. One year later, the MRTA seized over 100 hostages at the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima, demanding that Berenson and others be released. They failed. I stand by the strong opposition to freeing Ms. Berenson which I expressed two years ago. If she is returned to the United States, as many Peruvians are demanding, I hope that arrangements are made so that she serves equivalent time in a Federal prison. This is no time to be coddling those who facilitate terrorism, and it should not matter one bit whether they are misguided idealists or committed jihadists.
For the pro-Lori perspective, from a group that is clearly sympathetic to the MRTA, see freelori.org.