[JURIST] Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez [official website – in Spanish] on Friday was sentenced by a Venezuelan court to over 13 years in prison for inciting violence in nationwide protests [BBC report] in 2014. Lopez, a former Caracas borough mayor and Harvard University graduate, has long opposed leftist President Nicolás Maduro, an opposition he and his compatriots in the Popular Will party say led to his arrest. Lopez surrendered to Venezuelan authorities in February 2014 amidst allegations he incited violent protests leading to 43 deaths that year. Following a 14-month trial in which Lopez’s attorneys frequently complained of partisanism, the Caracas circuit court [official website] sentenced the former activist and economist to 13 years and nine months prison time, to be served at the Ramo Verde military prison where he has been held since his surrender.
Advocacy groups characterize Lopez’s arrest and imprisonment as indicative of greater human rights issues in Venezuela. On Lopez’s sentencing, Garry Kasparov, head of the International Council of the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), stated [HRF report], “[t]oday democrats around the world are in mourning for Venezuela. Lopez’s trial has confirmed that the fundamental rights and freedoms of Venezuelans are currently suspended.” Amnesty International (AI) [official website] also took umbrage [AI report] with the sentencing, stating “[t]he charges against Leopoldo López were never adequately substantiated and the prison sentence against him is clearly politically motivated. His only ‘crime’ was being leader of an opposition party in Venezuela.” Last October, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein [official profile] urged [JURIST report] Venezuela to release the politician and opposition leader, expressing concern over “[t]he prolonged and arbitrary detention of political opponents and protestors in Venezuela.”