"I am in jail because I have denounced the Venezuelan government for being corrupt, inefficient, repressive and anti-democratic....I am in jail for calling on the Venezuelan people to go to the streets and exercise our historical and constitutional right to protest until we achieve a political change that guarantees peace, wellbeing and progress for the Venezuelan people..."
- Leopoldo López, April 29
Ramo Verde Prison
Today, Judge Adriana Lopez ruled that Venezuelan opposition leader and prisoner of conscience, Leopoldo López, must remain in prison and await a trial later this year - despite an overwhelming lack of evidence against him.
The pre-trial hearing began on Monday June 2 and concluded at 3:00 am today. During the week-long affair, the Office of the Public Prosecutor provided no hard evidence against Leopoldo, instead insisting that Leopoldo had sent subliminal messages to his supporters that promoted violence and aggression against the government.
The criminalization of free speech
The surreal absurdity of the government's so-called case against Leopoldo was further exposed during the three-day hearing, as the government's arguments have now been presented in detail. In essence, they are arguing that Leopoldo's words and tweets explicitly calling for non-violent protest against repression, and an orderly and constitutional change in leadership, contain subliminal messages inciting people to violence.
As was noted yesterday in Caracas Chronicles : "The government's entire case rests on the analysis of the speeches made by Leopoldo, speeches in which he dared question the legitimacy of the authorities, and told people to march and stay on the streets to demand democracy. The Prosecutors then weave a legal theory that, taken to its logical conclusion, makes Leopoldo responsible for everything that has happened since the Venezuelan protest movement began in February."
Leopoldo deconstructed the government's case in sharp and compelling detail. His defense, translated in English, may be read in its entirety here. In this treatise he accounts for the activities of the day in question and reveals the inconsistencies in the Public Prosecutor's case. He unapologetically takes responsibility for promoting political change in Venezuela through constitutional means and exercising his right to protest and freedom of speech.
"It is clear, explicitly clear, that the accusation against me is based on criminalizing and prohibiting my ideas, proposals and actions - ideas, proposals and actions that are now supported by the majority of Venezuelans."
The trial against Leopoldo will reportedly begin in August and could come with a 14-year prison sentence if he is found guilty of all charges.
It is also important to remember that the political persecution taking place in Venezuela is not just of Leopoldo but of many students who also have been arrested, and sometimes even tortured. Here are more details on the systematic human rights violations of political prisoners.