A Venezuelan judge ruled Thursday that Leopoldo Lopez, a harsh government critic and former mayor of a Caracas suburb, will face trial on charges of incitement to violence and will continue to be held without bond.
Judge Adriana Lopez issued her decision, after three days of hearings, that there was sufficient evidence to proceed on charges that Lopez was responsible for violent demonstrations leading to his arrest Feb. 18. He is being held in the Ramo Verde military prison.
Lopez’s supporters and human rights advocates have criticized President Nicolas Maduro’s government for what they say is a politically motivated arrest based on scant evidence.
Clashes between demonstrators and security forces have left about 50 people dead and hundreds injured since early February. Opponents of the government are protesting against scarcities, the ailing economy and rising crime.
On Wednesday, student leaders appeared for the third straight day at the Palace of Justice, where the hearings were held, to protest the detention of Lopez as well as student protesters Marco Coello, Christian Holdack, Damian Martin and Angel Gonzalez.
Lopez, who could receive a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, is not the only opposition leader facing prosecution. Maria Corina Machado has been ordered to appear in court Monday to answer charges she was involved in a plot to kill Maduro.
Machado was stripped of her National Assembly seat in April after being accused of working on behalf of a foreign government when she spoke out against Maduro at an Organization of American States meeting this year.
Lopez’s defense attorney, Juan Carlos Gutierrez, told a radio interviewer after Thursday's ruling that the judge’s actions were “damaging to the truth and to legal rights.... The proofs of the defense were denied in a way that we went to the hearing completely hamstrung and silenced in terms of being able to prove" the former mayor's innocence.
“What we have seen is that there is no proof, there are only lies,” said Machado, who also was present outside the courthouse in a show of solidarity with Lopez.
Also facing charges of plotting against Maduro are businessman Pedro Burelli, former United Nations Ambassador Diego Arria and attorney Ricardo Koesling.
Without naming names, Atty. Gen. Luisa Ortega Diaz, who announced the hearing, said that “high officials of foreign countries” might also be implicated in the alleged plot against Maduro.
Another Maduro critic, newspaper editor Teodoro Petkoff, faces “aggravated defamation” charges brought by National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello and must appear every eight days before a tribunal in connection with the charges.
Special correspondents Mogollon and Kraul reported from Caracas and Buenos Aires, respectively.
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