Lori Berenson : biography
Lori Helene Berenson (born November 13, 1969) is an American convicted in Peru in 1996 of unlawful collaboration with the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), a group which had tried to overthrow the Peruvian government by force and which was and is considered a terrorist organization by the Peruvian government. The MRTA was designated on the official "terrorist organization" list of the U.S. State Department during the years 1997-2001.[https://www.osac.gov/Pages/ContentReportDetails.aspx?cid=9258 Peru 2010 Crime & Safety Report] Her arrest and conviction, and the circumstances of her trials, provoked considerable attention in the United States and in Peru.
After securing press credentials for herself and a photographer, visiting Peru's Congress to interview some of its members and attend sessions where she took notes and sketched a seating plan, Berenson was arrested on a public bus along with the photographer. Her photographer turned out to be the wife of a top MRTA leader, a fact Berenson stated she was unaware of at that time. The MRTA is alleged to have intended to use the information to seize lawmakers and exchange the hostages for imprisoned MRTA members. The house she rented in Lima was found to contain an arsenal of weapons and ammunition, together with armed guerrillas who violently resisted capture. She denied knowing of the presence of the weaponry or guerillas, or that the documents she prepared would be used for terrorism. In 2011 she admitted that she had known her associates were MRTA members and said: “It might not have been intentional, but the bottom line is: I did collaborate with them." In the same interview she maintained that she had not been aware that weapons were being amassed in the upper floors of her house which she had sublet to the MRTA members, or that violent actions were being planned at the Congress, stating that “at that time in Fujimori’s dictatorship, Congress was the only place that there was some sort of democratic process.”
Shortly after arrest, she made an angry statement, alleging that the MRTA was not a terrorist group, but was a revolutionary movement—a statement which caused great animosity towards her by many Peruvians.
After she was tried in 1996 by a military tribunal with a hooded judge and sentenced to life imprisonment, Berenson became "a cause celebre for human rights campaigners and a symbol for leftwing social activists around the world." Although publicly known judges had previously been killed in Peru by the MRTA, other elements of her trial were considered to be violations of human rights and to lack in impartiality, provoking controversy in the United States and other countries. In particular, she was allegedly denied the right to examine the government's evidence and witnesses. She was convicted of treason and sentenced to life without parole. In 2000, following a change of government in Peru, her conviction was overturned and she received a new trial. She was found guilty of collaboration with terrorism and sentenced to 20 years of prison. She served 15 years, and was granted conditional release in May 2010. In August 2010 an appeals court ordered that Berenson be arrested and made to serve out the remainder of her sentence. On November 5, 2010, a Peruvian judge ordered she be released from prison. She is currently on parole and must remain in Peru until her sentence ends in 2015.
Berenson spent her early years in prison at facilities high in the Andes, the first of which the Inter-American Court ruled is operated inhumanely. The Yanamayo prison where Berenson was initially held for about three years lies at above sea level near Lake Titicaca in the Puno Region, in southern Peru.
On October 7, 1998, Berenson was moved to another prison in Socabaya. She remained there until August 31, 2000, when she was transferred to the women's prison of Chorrillos in Lima. Then, on December 21, 2001, she was relocated to the maximum-security Huacariz Penitentiary in Cajamarca, north of Lima.
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