Venezuela protest leader 'denied jail visits'

Protest leader Leopoldo Lopez, jailed since February, has been denied visitation rights for three weeks, wife says.

    Venezuela protest leader 'denied jail visits'
    Protest leader Leopoldo Lopez, who has been jailed since February, with his wife Lilian Tintori in 2011 [Reuters]

    The wife of Venezuelan protest leader Leopoldo Lopez, who is being held alone in a small cell at a military jail, says her husband had not been allowed visitation rights for three weeks.

    Lopez's wife, Lilian Tintori, 36, told the media she was also denied access to a courthouse on Monday for her husband's first hearing where a decision will be taken to either set Lopez free or start a trial against him.

    The courthouses are strongly guarded by members of Venezuela's National Guard.

    Lopez was arrested in February as the alleged mastermind of unrest against President Nicolas Maduro's government and has been held at the hilltop Ramo Verde jail outside Caracas.

    Tintori, a former TV presenter and sportswoman who has two young children with Lopez, said she hoped justice would be done.

    "Today's message is pretty clear. Leopoldo Lopez cannot be imprisoned one more day. Leopoldo Lopez has to be with his family. Wanting a Venezuela in peace, well-being and progress is not a crime," Tintori said.

    Spearheaded protests

    The hardline opposition leader, a Harvard-educated economist, spearheaded street protests from the start of February that have grown around Venezuela.

    At least 41 people have died in the most protracted unrest in Venezuela for a decade, leading Maduro to declare Lopez responsible for the violence.

    Nevertheless, Tintori said peaceful protests were constitutional.

    "Peaceful protests are constitutional and protesting peacefully is not a crime. That is why Leopoldo Lopez has to walk free," Tintori said.

    The government has said Lopez will be treated humanely, but has not given details of his jail conditions.

    Maduro supporters were also seen chanting "murderer" outside the courthouse.

    Fluent in English and from a wealthy family, Lopez represents a radical opposition wing that believes street action is the only option because creeping authoritarianism makes democratic change of government impossible.

    Maduro, and not Lopez, should be taking responsibility for the unrest and discontent across Venezuela, his family has said, citing crime, queues, shortages and inflation.

    Lopez's charges have been reduced to lesser counts of instigating arson, damage and criminal gatherings, that could bring a 10-year sentence. His family called the charges "absurd".

    SOURCE: Reuters


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