Venezuela's opposition leader sentenced to 13 years

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez to face up to 13 years in prison on charges of provoking the 2014 protests that claimed the lives of more than 40 people

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Leopoldo Lopez speaks during an interview with Reuters in Caracas, February 11, 2014.

Venezuela's infamous jailed opposition leader of the Popular Will Party, Leopoldo Lopez, was sentenced to 13 years in jail on Thursday after being found guilty of backing the 2014 protests that ended up with more than 40 people dead, according to a statement made by his lawyer, Roberto Marrero.

Judge Susana Barreiros was the one who gave the orders of imprisoning the 44-year-old US-educated opponent of President Nicolas Maduro, and to be held in the Ramo Verde military jail outside Caracas, lawyer Marrero said via Twitter.

On Thursday, supporters of the jailed politician and pro-government activists clashed in Caracas outside, during his ongoing trial, which spiked tension whilst an approaching verdict was about to be announced.

Those supporting Lopez carried images of him and chanted "Freedom for Leopoldo."

They added arguing that the backers of socialist President Maduro attacked them and that one of the many who were injured, suffered a heart attack during the clashes.

"Our activist Horacio Blanco has died following a heart attack in the midst of an ambush led by those on the regime's payroll," Lopez's party said.

Government supporters yelled back "Fascist, terrorist, assassin!" while burning the orange flags of the Popular Will party, inciting fist fights between the two sides just after Lopez's wife Lilian Tintori arrived in front of the heavily-guarded Palace of Justice, as reported by Reuters correspondents from the scene.

The US-based TV network Telemundo stated that its freelance correspondent Daniel Garrido was physically assaulted and had his equipment stolen, he ended up waiting for medical assistance in Caracas, the broadcaster reported in a statement condemning the incident.

"I don't trust Venezuelan justice," said Lopez supporter Yulymar Mendez (45) during the Thursday protests.

"Leopoldo is innocent. He's in jail because he promises a better Venezuela, whereas this government has us hungry and there's no freedom," Mendez added.

Supporters of Leopoldo Lopez hold placards reading "Venezuela in solidarity. Leopoldo free" in Caracas September 10, 2015.

Supporters say Lopez, a popular ex- mayor of the Chacao district of Caracas, has become a scapegoat for Maduro during an extreme economic crisis that has caused shortages of goods ranging from flour to condoms.

US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson said in a statement on Thursday that she was "deeply troubled" after hearing Lopez’s final verdict of 13 years in prison.

Jacobson urged the defence of democracy and human rights in Venezuela  via Twitter that  Washington had been urging President Maduro's government to release Lopez who has been in jail since February 2014.

For many supporters of the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, they see the Lopez as a dangerous coup-monger who is disconnected from the needs of most of the people of  Venezuela.

"Lopez caused many deaths," said Delcy Diaz (45) who works in a government-run "social mission," speaking just outside the court.

"They don't have a need for a better quality of life, that's why they do this," she added while referring to last year's violence.

Lopez has also many critics who pointed out to his several attempts to depose the late Chavez in 2002.

During the failed coup attempt, he helped organise the illegal arrest of a cabinet member.

TRTWorld and agencies