Venezuela Supreme Court upholds sentence for opposition leader: lawyer

Thursday, February 16, 2017

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AFP) — Venezuela's Supreme Court on Thursday upheld opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez's nearly 14-year prison sentence, a day after US President Donald Trump called for his release.
The founder of Popular Will, one of the most hardline of the parties opposing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Lopez was sentenced on charges of inciting unrest at anti-government protests that left 43 people dead in 2014.
"The appeal was declared inadmissible. It is a reality and an act of absolute injustice," defense lawyer Juan Carlos Gutierrez told AFP, adding that the case is closed in Venezuela and can be appealed only to international bodies.
The ruling on the appeal, which was filed in July, came a day after Trump received Lopez's wife Lilian Tintori at the White House.
Upon landing in Caracas from Washington, Tintori told reporters that the court decision against her husband is "null."
"Under dictatorship, every sentence is null," she said.
"Trump is with the people of Venezuela," she said. Tintori buffeted claims her meeting with Trump constituted an interference into Venezuelan affairs, which the country's minister of foreign affairs has suggested.
"Venezuela should allow Leopoldo Lopez, a political prisoner & husband of @liliantintori (just met w/ @marcorubio) out of prison immediately," Trump tweeted following the meeting.
The government called Tintori's meeting with Trump an "intrusion and aggression."
Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez blamed Venezuelan opposition "lobbies" within "the Miami mafia."
"While President Maduro proposed starting a new era of respectful relations, Donald Trump is in solidarity with the leader of violent actions," he said.
Lopez was the most prominent of a hundred prisoners arrested for the 2014 protests.
Thursday's ruling "not only condemns an innocent man, which is serious in itself, but destroys what little remains of the rule of law in Venezuela," Gutierrez said. "It is not a legal act but a political one."
"We have already exhausted all the recourses Venezuelan law allows," he added. "We will go to the United Nations. We'll be presenting a document in a couple of weeks.
Also on Thursday, Venezuela said it would stop CNN's Spanish-language service from broadcasting over the internet, 24 hours after ordering cable services to take it off the air, accusing the outlet of "war propaganda."
Cable operators dropped CNN en Espanol -- Latin America's main news channel -- on Wednesday days after the news network broadcast an investigation into alleged fraud in granting Venezuelan passports and visas.
The opposition blames Maduro for an economic crisis that has prompted riots and looting due to shortages of food, medicine and other staples.
It wants a popular vote on removing the socialist leader from office.
Maduro blames the crisis on a US-backed capitalist conspiracy.

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