By Paula Buzzi
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
LIMA, Peru — Lori Berenson, a U.S. political activist jailed in Peru since 1995 for terrorism, and her 31-month toddler were denied from boarding a flight back to her New York home on Friday despite showing immigration authorities a court order approving the leave. The Peruvian court authorized her leave for the holidays on Thursday conditioned upon her return on January 11.
Berenson, a former MIT student, was arrested in 1995 at age 25 on a terrorism conviction after authorities raided her home and found over a dozen members of the Tupac Amaru group inside. The government believes that the rebel group was preparing an attack on Congress and that Berenson was aiding in the planning and providing them a safe house. Authorities also found around 8,000 rounds of ammunition and 3,000 sticks of dynamite inside the home.
Berenson was initially sentenced to life in prison by a military judge, but her sentence was later reduced to 20 years in prison in civil court with pressure from the U.S government. Berenson denied having any knowledge about the rebel group’s violent plans during her trial but has recently acknowledged and regretted to have aided the rebels.
After serving more than 15 years in prison, Berenson has been out on parole and was granted permission by a Peruvian judge to visit her family in New York City for the holidays. Berenson claims that she was turned away by immigration authorities upon arriving at the airport because she was “missing a document” but that she was sure she had all the documents required for travel.
Berenson’s lawyer is her ex-husband and a former member of the rebel group, Anibal Apari Sanchez. Sanchez believes the government abused its authority and made a political decision to stop her from leaving the country. “Administratively, you can’t block a court order,” he said.
An anonymous U.S. State Department official stated that there were some paperwork issues that were being worked through but that he could not comment any further on the situation because of its sensitivity.
Guillermo Gonzales, A Judiciary Department spokesman denies blocking the court order. “We don’t have anything to do with it,” he said. “As far as the judiciary is concerned, she was allowed to leave the country.” Neither the Interior Ministry nor any senior government official could give an explanation.
Sanchez told Reuters he is going to see what other measures he can take in the coming days to make sure Berenson will be home in New York for the holidays.
For further information, please see:
Reuters – Peru Delays Former Prisoner Berenson’s Return to U.S – 18 December 2011
The Washington Post – State Attorney Alleges Judicial Misconduct in Granting Berenson Permission to Holiday in NY – 18 December 2011
CNN – Paroled American Activist Stopped From Leaving Peru, Her Lawyer Says – 17 December 2011
The New York Times – American Who Was Jailed in Peru Is Blocked at Airport – 17 December 2011