Jailed Venezuelan opposition leader appeals sentence

Leopoldo Lopez appealed his 14-year sentence during a marathon hearing.

AFP| Last Updated: Jul 23, 2016, 15:01 PM IST

Caracas: Jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez appealed his 14-year sentence during a marathon hearing that stretched into early Saturday, declaring himself innocent of inciting violence at anti-government protests in 2014.

Following the hearing, which lasted 12 hours, the court has 10 days to decide whether to accept the appeal.

Lopez, who calls himself a political prisoner, transferred to the court in Caracas from a military prison on the outskirts of the capital.

"I am innocent of the crimes for which I am accused," Lopez said.

"I assume full responsibility for having convened the peaceful protest, under the terms established by the constitution, as is my right and the right of all Venezuelans to do," he said.

Dozens of supporters rallied outside the courthouse holding pictures of Lopez with the messages "Free Leopoldo Now" and "Wanting a better Venezuela is not a crime."

Lopez`s family and an opposition lawmaker confirmed his presence at the hearing. He was apparently ushered into court out of view of journalists waiting outside.

A 45-year-old US-educated economist, Lopez was arrested in February 2014 amid a wave of pro- and anti-government protests that swept Venezuela and left 43 people dead.

The government accused Lopez, one of leftist President Nicolas Maduro`s most hardline opponents, of inciting the violence.

He denies the charge, calling his arrest an act of political repression.

His sentence, handed down in September after a closed-door trial, was strongly condemned by the United Nations, the United States and the European Union.

Lopez`s mother and lawyers were allowed into Friday`s hearing, but not the two Spanish advisers helping prepare his defense.

One of the advisers, former Spanish justice minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, called the court`s handling of Lopez`s case "arbitrary" and "unjust."

His defense lawyers say Venezuela`s court system is beholden to Maduro`s government.

The head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, wrote on Twitter that "the OAS is closely watching" the appeal, saying judicial impartiality was "key."

Lopez`s wife, Lilian Tintori, said her husband had been held in solitary confinement for weeks and that the documents for his appeal were removed from his cell.

"Despite that, they don`t know him," she said. "He won`t break."