Friday, September 11, 2015 8:06 am
The ruling enraged foes of socialist President Nicolas Maduro who say Lopez is an innocent scapegoat, but it brought cheers from grassroots government supporters who view the U.S.-educated activist as a dangerous conspirator.
After a marathon session at the heavily guarded Palace of Justice, judge Susana Barreiros ruled Lopez, 44, who was arrested in February last year, had masterminded the violence and street riots that erupted for three months.
Though Lopez had publicly called for peaceful resistance to the Maduro government and was behind bars during most of the unrest, prosecutors said his speeches sent subliminal messages and constituted a call to violence.
He was ordered to return to the Ramo Verde military jail to serve a sentence of 13 years and nine months.
Lopez’s case has become a cause celebre for opposition supporters over what they deem the Maduro government’s trampling of human rights. The U.S. government, the United Nations and international rights groups had all called for Lopez’s release.
“This is not only an attack on liberty and legality … but also a provocation to the Venezuelan people,” said Jesus Torrealba, leader of the opposition coalition which includes Lopez’s Popular Will party.
Some Lopez supporters banged pots and pans in upmarket areas of Caracas, a traditional form of protest in Venezuela. Others took to social media to vent their anger, hailing Lopez as a Venezuelan “Nelson Mandela.”