Peruvian justice minister: Berenson using toddler to gain sympathy in parole appeal

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Peru's justice minister on Thursday accused American activist Lori Berenson of using her 15-month-old son to try to win sympathy as she was taken back to prison after an appeals court struck down a decision granting parole.

The 40-year-old from New York surrendered to police Wednesday after the ruling, and she was later led into a courthouse lockup holding her son, Salvador, in her arms.

Justice Minister Victor Garcia Toma told reporters the decision to publicly display the boy while being taken into custody "should have been avoided, and certainly a baby can't be used to create a masquerade of victimization."

Her husband and lawyer, Anibal Apari, dismissed the criticism, saying Berenson happened to be with her son at a meeting at the U.S. Embassy when her arrest order was announced. He said there are people in Peru, including some in high-ranking positions, who are trying to encourage a hostile climate toward Berenson.

"Whatever she does, there are always going to be people who regrettably hold court in the media, who feed a climate of confrontation and ill will toward Lori," Apari told The Associated Press.

Berenson has served nearly 15 years of a 20-year sentence for aiding leftist rebels after being convicted of terrorist collaboration. She recently publicly apologized for her actions, saying she hoped to be free to focus on raising her son.

Berenson has been widely disliked among Peruvians for collaborating with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, and her release on parole was unpopular.

The appeals court annulled a May decision granting parole, saying the lower court had not received proper police verification of the address where Berenson would be living upon her release.

Deputy Justice Minister Luis Marill told the Lima TV station Canal N that once Berenson's address is properly registered and verified, the appeals court will also consider the argument by prosecutors that Berenson was prematurely granted parole after 14 years and five months in prison, instead of the required 15 years.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Charles Luoma-Overstreet said the U.S. government "will continue to follow her case and make sure that she is being treated well and fairly."

"We expect Lori's case to be handled fairly in accordance with Peruvian law," Luoma-Overstreet said in an e-mailed statement.