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Peru judge orders release of US woman held for involvement with rebel group

A Peruvian judge on Tuesday ordered the release of Lori Berenson [advocacy website], a US citizen held since 1995 for collaboration with a Marxist rebel organization. Judge Jessica Leon Yarango cited [press release, in Spanish] good behavior, Berenson's renunciation of violence, and the completion of "re-education, rehabilitation and re-socialization," in deciding to grant parole. Berenson will not be allowed to leave the country until her parole period has ended and must make monthly court appearances. The prosecution has appealed the decision. Berenson was arrested in 1995 for involvement with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], a Marxist rebel group. She is alleged to have trained guerrillas [Guardian report] and moved weapons for the MRTA in addition to assisting the group in carrying out an attack on the Peruvian Congress [official website, in Spanish] by gaining access to the body using press credentials.

In 2005, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights [official website] denied an appeal request to reinterpret its November 2004 ruling [JURIST reports] that upheld Berenson's conviction. Lawyers for Berenson claimed that her trial failed to meet international standards for fairness, and sought to have her conviction and 20-year sentence overturned. In a 2000 CBS News interview [text], Berenson characterized her original trial proceedings as hostile and coercive, saying that she had faced a panel of hooded judges and that armed guards had aimed assault rifles at her and her lawyer's heads during the 10-minute proceeding. She was initially sentenced to life imprisonment by a military court, but the sentence was reduced to 20 years in a civil retrial in 2001.

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