State attorney: Judges broke law in Berenson case

AP News
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Posted: Dec 18, 2011 3:21 PM
State attorney: Judges broke law in Berenson case

Peru's anti-terrorism attorney said Sunday he will seek misconduct charges against the three judges who granted paroled U.S. activist Lori Berenson permission to leave the country for the first time since her 1995 arrest.

Julio Galindo said he would ask prosecutors on Monday to charge the judges with violating anti-terrorism laws by clearing Berenson to travel to New York City with her toddler son to spend the holidays with her family.

Despite the court's approval, the 42-year-old Berenson was prevented from boarding a flight on Friday.

Her lawyer, Anibal Apari, told The Associated Press that Berenson presented the court's authorization, which stipulates she must return by Jan. 11, to migration officials but they demanded an additional document that she didn't have because it doesn't exist.

Apari said he would try to resolve matters with Interior Ministry officials on Monday so Berenson and 31-month-old Salvador can travel. Apari is the child's father; he and Berenson met in prison and are amicably separated.

Neither the Interior Ministry nor any senior government official gave an explanation for why Berenson was barred from leaving the country. Interior Ministry spokeswoman Zully Bismarck did not return repeated phone calls from the AP seeking clarification.

Galindo had fought to reimprison Berenson after her May 2010 parole, arguing that she did not qualify for early release from the 20-year sentence for aiding the leftist rebel Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement that ends in 2015.

While failing in that goal, he did succeed in getting Berenson and Salvador returned to prison on a technicality for 2 1/2 months before a court ordered her freed.

Galindo was asked Sunday if his superiors at the Interior Ministry approved of his efforts to prevent Berenson from leaving the country and to seek criminal charges against the judges that carry prison terms of up to five years in prison.

"I can't speak for other officials," he said. My job is the follow the law."

"This is a technical and not a political matter," he added.

On Friday, Galindo filed a motion seeking to nullify the previous day's decision by the judges authorizing Berenson's trip and declaring she did not represent a flight risk.

He said that Peruvian law bars parolees convicted of terrorism-related offenses from traveling abroad, though criminal law expert Luis Lamas said the judicial authorization that Berenson obtained granted her an exemption from that law.

A former Massachusetts Institute of Technology student who had previously worked with El Salvador's leftist rebels, Berenson was arrested at age 25 and accused of helping the Tupac Amaru group plan an armed takeover of Congress, an attack that never happened.

A military court convicted her the following year and sentenced her to life in prison for sedition. After the U.S. government pressured Peruvian officials, she was retried in civil courts in 2001 and sentenced to 20 years for terrorist collaboration.

Berenson's parents, often outspoken on her behalf, have not commented on their daughter's situation in the wake of Friday night's disappointment.

Her father Mark, a college statistics professor who turns 70 on Dec. 29, said Friday that his daughter intended to respect the law and return to Peru.

Many Peruvians see her as a symbol of Peru's 1980-2000 conflict, which claimed some 70,000 lives and in which the fanatical Maoist Shining Path movement did most of the killing.

Berenson's journey from prison inmate to parolee has been anguished, and Peruvian news media have repeatedly hounded and mobbed her and frightened Salvador.

Lori "just wants to be a low-profile person and get on with her life and be a good citizen," her father told the AP. He said he planned to ask President Ollanta Humala to law commute his daughter's sentence.

Humala, a former army lieutenant colonel, has not indicated whether he might do so.

Unrepentant when arrested, Berenson softened during years of sometimes harsh prison conditions, and was eventually praised as a model prisoner. Since her parole, she has repeatedly expressed regret for aiding the rebel group.

Berenson has acknowledged helping the rebels rent a safe house, where authorities seized a cache of weapons. But she insists she didn't know guns were being stored there. She denies ever engaging in violence.

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Associated Press writer Frank Bajak contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS Mark Berenson's birthday to Dec. 29)