Jailed Opposition Leader to Face Trial in August

A man walks behind a cardboard figure of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez at the headquarters of political party Popular Will (Voluntad Popular) in Caracas. Reuters

A man walks behind a cardboard figure of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez at the headquarters of political party Popular Will (Voluntad Popular) in Caracas. Reuters

Leopoldo Lopez Is Accused of Fomenting Protests

By  KEJAL VYAS

CARACAS—The Venezuelan government will try Leopoldo López, a prominent opposition leader, in August for allegedly instigating the antigovernment protests that shook the country this year, his lawyers said Thursday.

Mr. López, the 43-year-old president of the Popular Will party, has been in jail since Feb. 18, when he turned himself in after President Nicolás Maduro and other top ministers accused him planning street protests that led to several deaths.

The case against Mr. López and his detention in a military prison outside the capital have drawn international condemnation from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and some U.S. congressional members, who say Caracas is trying to deflect responsibility for the protests and silence dissent.

“Thursday’s decision was brewing for some time,” Henrique Capriles, a governor and former presidential candidate, said in a statement, calling it evidence of the decay of the Venezuelan judicial system. “It’s just another barricade for justice.”

The development came a day after Venezuela’s attorney general summoned another opposition leader, María Corina Machado, to respond to allegations made last week by Mr. Maduro’s United Socialist Party that she was part of a conspiracy to kill the president. The party presented emails that they said showed Ms. Machado plotting the assassination with U.S. officials.

Ms. Machado denied the allegations and said they were part of a campaign to smear the leader’s detractors. U.S. officials, too, have dismissed the charges as an attempt by the Maduro administration to divert attention from Venezuela’s troubled economy.

At least 42 people were killed in clashes between state security forces and protesters. Demonstrations began in February against rampant crime and grew to include complaints over a crumbling economy and corruption. Mr. López’s Popular Will party is a radical wing of Venezuela’s opposition coalition that joined the growing student-led protest movement as it sought to force Mr. Maduro’s resignation.

Demonstrations have waned over the past two months in the face of a crackdown by the National Guard and paramilitary groups.

At Mr. López’s hearings, which began Monday, the court rejected evidence as well as witnesses and legal experts that the defense had planned to use, his lawyer, Juan Carlos Gutiérrez, said on local radio. “We’re going to trial completely bound, completely silent,” Mr. Gutiérrez said. Press and Mr. López’s wife, Lilian Tintori, were banned from the hearing.

The Attorney General’s office said the Harvard-educated politician will be tried on charges of “public instigation and association” and encouraging violent street confrontations.

Mr. Maduro’s administration also recently tried two opposition mayors and gave them yearlong prison terms after being accused of doing little to control demonstrations and promoting rebellion.

Some moderate leaders of the opposition coalition agreed in April to begin talks with the government in a bid to ease tensions. But the meetings were halted just a month later by the opposition representatives, who accused the government of continuing to crack down on political rivals and protesters.

In the U.S., congressional leaders have drafted a bill to impose targeted sanctions on some Venezuelan government officials accused of rights abuses. The bill was approved by the House of Representatives and is pending debate in the Senate. But State Department officials have said they are reluctant to use sanctions, arguing that they could jeopardize the dialogue process between the government and the opposition.

Write to Kejal Vyas at kejal.vyas@wsj.com


The original article can be found at http://online.wsj.com/articles/jailed-venezuela-opposition-leader-to-face-trial-in-august-1401991244

 

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