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Venezuela opposition leader Leopoldo López sentenced to 14 years in jail

Venezuela opposition leader Leopoldo López sentenced to 14 years in jail.

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López has been sentenced to nearly 14
years in prison, further heightening tensions in the country’s already polarised
political landscape.

Convicted of inciting violence in his role as the leader of a 2014 street protest
movement, López was reported to be calm as judge Susana Barreiros read the
sentence of 13 years, 9 months and seven days in prison.

In a closed-door trial human rights advocates decried as politically
motivated and deeply flawed, the judge allowed only one of the 60 defence
witnesses proposed by his lawyers, and rejected 30 proposed exhibits, according
to his lawyers.

Roberta Jacobson, the United States’ assistant secretary of state for the
Western Hemisphere, said on her Twitter feed she was “Deeply troubled by the
conviction of Leopoldo Lopez” and called on the Venezuelan government to protect
democracy and human rights.

López, a 44-year-old US-educated economist who hails from a wealthy family,
is the leader of the more radical wing of the Venezuelan opposition, and has
advocated for the removal of the leftist government lead by President Nicolás
Maduro. His radicalism has won him a loyal following among some and the ire of
government supporters.

Before the verdict was handed down, a defiant López told the judge in a
three-hour address to the court: “If the sentence is a conviction, I know that
you will be more afraid pronouncing it than I will be hearing it because you
know I am innocent.”

López repeatedly denied calling for the street barricades and destruction of
government property that marked mass protests last year throughout the country,
which resulted in the deaths of 43 people over the period of several months,
including civilians, police and protesters.

During Thursday’s hearing, López had planned to show video mapping out the
protests in February 2014, in which he is seen calling for a peaceful march. But
he was reportedly denied the use of a video to show it to the court.

López’ conviction could sour attempts at repairing frayed relations with the
US, which applied targeted sanctions to several top security and military
officials accused of human rights abuses during last year’s protests. Venezuela
responded by blacklisting current and former US officials and by requiring visas
for Americans wanting to travel to Venezuela.

US diplomat Thomas Shannon has met several times with Maduro and other
Venezuelan officials in recent months to try to engage the Venezuelan government
and to express concern over López’s trial.

Secretary of State John Kerry met López’s wife Lilian Tintori in Washington
last week and called Venezuela’s foreign minister on Tuesday to speak about the

As the hearing got underway on Thursday morning, members of Lopez’s Voluntad
Popular party clashed with government supporters. Demonstrators wearing the
signature red T-shirts of government loyalists gathered in front of the court
building chanting that López was a murderer and terrorist.

At least two women were injured in the clash and a 66-year-old man,
identified as Horacio Blanco,
died shortly after of an apparent heart attack brought on by the

The sentence came as Venezuela prepares to go to the polls in December to
choose new lawmakers amid a crippling economic crisis — partially due to
plunging oil prices — continued shortages of basic goods and spiralling crime

With popular discontent on the rise, Maduro’s ruling Socialist party faces a
strong possibility of defeat in many districts and could lose control of the
National Assembly altogether, according to opinion polls.

López has been jailed – mostly in solitary confinement – since February 2014
after he was accused of instigating violence and damage to government buildings
in a 12 February protest in Caracas.

In May, López staged a month-long hunger strike to
pressure authorities to set a date for legislative elections and ended it when
the vote was set for 6 December.

Nine opposition politicians, including López, have been barred from holding
office, eliminating them as candidates in the parliamentary elections. Others
include Maria Corina Machada, another outspoken opposition politician and former
member of the National Assembly who lost her seat in 2014. She was disqualified
from running for failing to declare food vouchers in her asset statement.

Daniel Ceballos and Vicencio Scarano, opposition mayors, were jailed for
failing to control anti-government protests in 2014 and were barred from seeking
public office for failing to submit administrative paperwork for their towns
while they were behind bars.

Human Rights Watch said the rulings by Venezuela’s comptroller’s office
“raise concerns about arbitrary interference with rights of political
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