NEW YORK — Today marks two and a half years since Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López was arbitrarily arrested in Caracas while leading a peaceful demonstration to the Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace.
Human Rights Foundation (HRF) reiterates its February 2014 designation of López as a prisoner of conscience and calls on Venezuela’s authoritarian regime to release him immediately. This morning, López was formally notified of a Venezuelan appellate court's decision to uphold the 14-year sentence he was given in September 2015.
“Today, a kangaroo court of appeals sanctioned Nicolás Maduro’s desire to have Leopoldo López spend the next 12 years of his life in a military prison. Exactly the kind of decision one would expect from the brutal militaristic regime that has brought Venezuela into an unprecedented humanitarian crisis,” said Garry Kasparov, chairman of HRF. “López’s imprisonment and the repressive tactics used by the police, armed forces, and paramilitary groups against the opposition make it clear that the Maduro regime has lost any remaining democratic legitimacy. The free world must continue to bear witness,” added Kasparov.
During the appeal process, judges Evelin Dayana Mendoza, Jimai Montiel Calles, and Nelson Moncada Gómez of the Court of Appeals of Caracas ignored last year's confession by the now-exiled lead prosecutor, Franklin Nieves, who said he had been pressured to falsely charge López. The court also violated López's right to a defense attorney of his choosing by rejecting two Spanish lawyers serving on López’s international defense team, including former Spanish Minister of Justice Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón. López’s trial and appellate proceedings have been riddled with due process violations. The trial and appeal process consisted of over 70 hearings that took place behind closed doors, in violation of the right to a public trial. Out of over 700 hours of trial proceedings, López’s legal team had just three hours to argue in his defense. In an ostensible display of bias, trial judge Barreiros allowed 108 witnesses and 30 exhibits presented by the prosecution, while allowing only two of the 60 witnesses proposed by the defense, and declaring the bulk of the evidence exonerating López inadmissible.
Throughout the criminal proceedings, high-ranking government officials have made almost daily public statements asserting López’s culpability, in violation of the right to presumption of innocence. In fact, official television channels and the two main leaders of the regime, Nicolás Maduro y Diosdado Cabello, refer to López as “The Monster of Ramo Verde.” Ramo Verde is the name of the military prison in Los Teques, Venezuela, where over the past two and a half years López has been subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, in direct violation of international standards on the protection of the human dignity of persons deprived of liberty.
This morning, López appeared before the appellate court to hear a decision that had previously been announced on August 12. A picture posted today on his Facebook account (usually managed by his wife Lilian Tintori) shows a bearded and heavily guarded López entering the appellate courtroom. In addition to the appalling conditions of captivity and excessive isolation, López has spent at least a third of his time in prison in solitary confinement, having been denied the right to receive visitors, including, at times, his wife and children, as well as his lawyers. López, his wife, and his mother have been subjected to violent, invasive searches, and the confidentiality of their communications has been violated.
“Terms like ‘kangaroo court’ or ‘sham trial’ do not begin to describe what has happened to López since his arrest in 2014. After the lead prosecutor confessed to having falsely charged López, the conviction would have been vacated immediately if Venezuela were a democratic nation,” said Javier El-Hage, chief legal officer of HRF. “López is part of a group of prominent prodemocracy activists under dictatorial regimes worldwide who have been sentenced to dozens of years in prison for advocating basic human rights. In 2009, the Chinese dictatorship jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo on charges of ‘inciting subversion of state power’ after he wrote a democracy manifesto, while in 2012 Kazakhstan’s authoritarian regime convicted the leader of the democratic opposition, Vladimir Kozlov, of ‘inciting social hatred.’ Kozlov, whose case is very similar to that of López, was also convicted for ‘creating and managing an organized criminal group,’ which is the label the regime gave to Kozlov’s political party, in a move very similar to the one Venezuela pursued against López’s party, Voluntad Popular,” said El-Hage.
López’s unjust arrest and incarceration have been condemned by multiple institutions worldwide, including Amnesty International, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the European Parliament. HRF was the first organization to declare López a political prisoner and a prisoner of conscience, after determining that the opposition leader had been persecuted, arrested, and imprisoned exclusively for having exercised his right to freedom of expression.
Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.