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Venezuela frees judge from house arrest

Maria Lourdes Afiuni was arrested in 2009 after then-President Hugo Chavez objected to one of her rulings.

Last Modified: 15 Jun 2013 02:33
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Maria Lourdes Afiuni became a human rights cause celebre following her arrest in 2009 on corruption charges [AFP]

Venezuelan authorities have freed a judge who was arrested in 2009 after then-President Hugo Chavez objected to one of her rulings. 

Maria Lourdes Afiuni's case became a cause celebre for the opposition and international human rights groups.

A Caracas judge released Afiuni from house arrest on Friday so she can seek treatment for health problems, said Thelma Fernandez, an attorney for the 50-year-old magistrate widely considered Venezuela's top political prisoner.

Corruption charges

The ruling does not erase the charges of corruption, abuse of authority and aiding an inmate's escape for which Chavez ordered her jailed. There was no immediate comment from the government.

The judge was arrested after she granted bail to a jailed banker accused of fraud. He later fled the country.

This infuriated then president Hugo Chavez, who died in March of this year. At the time he said on television that Afiuni should be sentenced to 30 years in prison.

After more than a year in a women's prison, Afiuni was transferred to house arrest at her apartment in the capital in 2011. Now, Afiuni has to report to the court every 15 days and is barred from leaving the country without permission or speaking to the press.

Her trial began in November 2012. Afiuni has refused to attend, calling it rigged.

A United Nations group said from the outset that her detention was arbitrary and called for her immediate release, and other human rights groups also denounced it as showing disregard for the independence of the judiciary.

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