Prison upheld for Maduro’s chief foe

The Human Rights Foundation has called on the government of Venezuela to release opposition leader Leopoldo López, again calling him a prisoner of conscience. López was detained while leading a demonstration in Caracas.

Thursday morning López was formally notified of a Venezuelan appellate court’s decision to uphold the 14-year sentence he was given in September 2015, said the foundation.

“Today, a kangaroo court of appeals sanctioned Nicolás Maduro’s desire to have Leopoldo López spend the next 12 years of his life in a military prison. Exactly the kind of decision one would expect from the brutal militaristic regime that has brought Venezuela into an unprecedented humanitarian crisis,” said Garry Kasparov, foundation chairman. “López’s imprisonment and the repressive tactics used by the police, armed forces, and paramilitary groups against the opposition make it clear that the Maduro regime has lost any remaining democratic legitimacy. The free world must continue to bear witness,” added Kasparov.

The foundation said that during the appeal process, judges Evelin Dayana Mendoza, Jimai Montiel Calles and Nelson Moncada Gómez of the court of appeals of Caracas ignored last year’s confession by the now-exiled lead prosecutor, Franklin Nieves, who said he had been pressured to falsely charge López.

The court also violated López’s right to a defense attorney of his choosing by rejecting two Spanish lawyers serving on López’s international defense team, including former Spanish minister of justice Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, the foundation added, noting that López’s trial and appellate proceedings have been riddled with due process violations.

The trial and appeal process consisted of over 70 hearings that took place behind closed doors, in violation of the right to a public trial. Out of over 700 hours of trial proceedings, López’s legal team had just three hours to argue in his defense. In an ostensible display of bias, the trial judge allowed 108 witnesses and 30 exhibits presented by the prosecution, while allowing only two of the 60 witnesses proposed by the defense, and declaring the bulk of the evidence exonerating López inadmissible, the foundation noted.

López’s arrest and incarceration have been condemned by multiple institutions worldwide, including Amnesty International, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the European Parliament.

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