May 25, 2010 / 5:26 PM / 9 years ago

Jailed U.S. citizen Berenson may be freed in Peru

LIMA (Reuters) - Lori Berenson, a U.S. citizen serving a 20-year sentence in Peru for aiding leftist guerrillas, could be granted parole on Tuesday after some 15 years in prison and deported, an official at the country’s justice ministry said.

Berenson, 40, a New Yorker who studied at the elite Massachusetts Institute of Technology before moving to Latin America as a human rights activist, would be freed a year after giving birth to a baby boy, Salvador.

Berenson became eligible for parole this year after serving most of her sentence.

Her husband, Anibal Apari Sanchez, a former member of the radical Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA, is now a lawyer and represented her in the parole hearing. Berenson married Apari in 2003 and inmates in Peru are allowed conjugal visits.

Though the justice ministry said it would quickly file to deport Berenson if the judge grants her parole, Peru’s human rights agency, the Defensoria del Pueblo, said there would be no legal basis for forcing her to leave the country.

She was arrested on a bus in 1995 on charges of being a leader of the MRTA, a leftist insurgency that was active in Peru in the 1980s and 1990s. She has denied being part of the

MRTA.

A “faceless,” or anonymous, military court jailed her for life, but under pressure from the United States, a civilian court retried her and sentenced her to 20 years.

Her father, Mark Berenson, who has said he hopes Peruvian officials will treat her leniently as she never took up arms, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Berenson spent many years in jail at a harsh prison high in the Andes mountains. She was transferred in early 2009 to Peru’s capital, Lima, to get health care during her pregnancy.

At the time of her arrest Berenson was with the wife of Nestor Cerpa, who in 1996 led a group of MRTA rebels that took hundreds of diplomats and government officials hostage at the Japanese ambassador’s house in Lima.

The crisis dragged on for months until Alberto Fujimori, the president at the time, sent in commandos who had dug tunnels underneath the house. They killed more than a dozen insurgents in a surprise raid.

The MRTA was a small rebel group compared to the Maoist Shining Path, which launched a brutal war against the state in 1980. Over the subsequent two decades nearly 30,000 people died in a bloody civil war.

Reporting by Marco Aquino and Terry Wade; Editing by Jackie Frank

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