Several days ago - 45 days after his arrest - the Venezuelan government formally charged opposition leader Leopoldo López with crimes that could carry a 14-year prison sentence. It was the latest step in the Maduro regime's attempt to silence one of the most visible leaders of its opposition.
The process will now move to a preliminary hearing phase, which could take place in May. This would be followed by a trial phase, which could take from 3 months to 2 years. But don't be fooled by the window dressing. In Venezuela, there are no jury trials, the prosecution sets the rules of admissible evidence, and the judges are beholden to the Maduro regime.
The facts of Leopoldo's case and important context for the world to know are outlined in this briefing document. We urge anyone with an interest in justice and human rights to review this briefing to understand more about the gross violation of human rights that is unfolding.
FOUR THINGS TO KNOW
1. Leopoldo is a prisoner of conscience. He was arrested without evidence, based on allegations invented out of thin air, at the direction of a government anxious to silence its opposition.
2. No investigation, evidence or due process. To date, all evidence-gathering has been controlled by the prosecution. In fact, the defense has proposed over 30 witnesses and 8 videos. All have been rejected. Leopoldo himself requested the opportunity to be heard by the judges, but his right to speak and defend himself was rejected.
3. A strong majority of Venezuelans believe Leopoldo's imprisonment is unjust. According to the most recent IVAD tracking poll, 67% of Venezuelans believe Leopoldo is a political prisoner. This belief cuts across all segments - including the poorest (60.4%). Even among the ruling party's own supporters more (47.4%) believe this to be true than believe it to be false (45.1%). The full results of the poll can be found in Spanish here.
4. "The truth is this government's worst enemy." In an interview from prison published over the weekend in The Telegraph Leopoldo stated that "the truth is this government's worst enemy - so it is attempting to gag every voice that speaks out. This is the strategy of a government that is fearful of its own legitimacy - and has concluded that the only way to maintain power is to remove its opponents entirely." Leopoldo warned, "Other dictators and would-be dictators will learn a terrible lesson if the world ignores the abuses taking place in plain sight."