Last updated: 18 january, 2011 - 15:14 GMT

US woman imprisoned in Peru

Lori Berenson

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Lori Berenson is an American woman who has spent 15 years in prison in Peru for helping a left wing rebel group.

In the 1980s and 90s the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA, kidnapped and killed a number of people.

Lori denies being a member or participating in any violent acts.

She was initially convicted of treason by a closed military court and sentenced to life imprisonment.

She was re-tried by a civilian court in 2001, when she was convicted of collaborating with the MRTA and given a reduced sentence of 20 years.

Lori is a household name in Peru - for some she is still a hate figure who reminds them of the country's violent civil conflict, in which nearly 70 000 people died.

She was recently released on parole, but prosecutors are trying to revoke it.

Early days in Peru

In 1994, Lori's parents were both university professors in New York.

She had been studying at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and having become interested in Latin America, she took a leave of absence to travel to El Salvador and then Peru.

Lori rented a spacious house in Lima. When police raided it, they found large quantities of ammunition and explosives, and members of the MRTA living there.

Lori says she was living elsewhere by then. She says she sublet the fourth floor and did not make inquiries about what was going on.

Trial and conviction

Three days before her trial, Lori was presented to the media.

She gave a defiant speech in support of the MRTA, denying that they were a terrorist organisation.

Some commentators saw her speech as a revolutionary rant.

The footage has become well-known in Peru, where it has been repeatedly shown on TV.

In 1996, Lori was put on trial along with other people accused of treason and terrorism.

The atmosphere in court was tense, with the judge and other officials wearing hoods so they could not be identified and attacked.

Lori spent the next 15 years in a succession of prisons, most of them far away from Lima.

For the first three years, she was in the notorious Yanamayo prison, high in the Andes at an altitude of 3 800 metres, where inmates spent almost the entire day in small, cold, dimly lit cells.

Lori Berenson spoke to Outlook's Matthew Bannister and told him about her extraordinary experience.

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