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Venezuela Upholds 14-Year Sentence for Leopoldo López Hours After Trump Calls for Freedom

Venezuela’s Supreme Court dismissed an appeal to liberate Popular Will opposition party leader Leopoldo López hours after President Donald Trump issued a plea to the socialist regime to liberate the prisoner of conscience “immediately.”

Venezuelan police arrested López on February 18, 2014, on charges of “terrorism” for organizing a peaceful protest against the socialist regime of dictator Nicolás Maduro. The courts ultimately sentenced him to 14 years in prison for defying the Chavista government.

López’s attorneys and supporters had resorted to the nation’s Supreme Court in a last attempt to nullify the charges. The court dashed those hopes Thursday, upholding the sentence and exhausting the last legal recourse available to him.

Following the Supreme Court’s announcement, López issued a statement from prison accusing Diosdado Cabello, the current minority leader of the United Venezuelan Socialist Party (PSUV) in the National Assembly, of admitting to him personally that the charges were false. López accused Cabello of referring to him as “innocent” in front of his wife and parents. Franklin Nieves, the prosecutor in the López case, defected to the United States in 2015 and told reporters that the evidence he used to convict López was “100 percent false.” The court ultimately dropped terrorism charges and instead convicted López on charges of inciting violence

The court’s move appeared to be a response to American President Donald Trump, who demanded López’s release on Wednesday.

Trump held a surprise meeting with his wife, Lilian Tintori, who had traveled to Washington on the occasion of the anniversary of his arrest to raise awareness of the grave violations of human rights he currently faces in prison. Wednesday evening, the president posted a photograph alongside Tintori, Vice President Mike Pence, and Senator Marco Rubio, with the message: “Venezuela should allow Leopoldo Lopez, a political prisoner & husband of @liliantintori (just met w/ @marcorubio) out of prison immediately.”

Trump had repeatedly vowed to make human rights in Venezuela a priority for his administration as the Republican presidential nominee.

In addition to the López verdict, Maduro himself released a message dedicated to President Trump, arguing that pro-freedom elements of the U.S. government were attempting to dupe him into conflict with Venezuela. “Mr. President Trump, open your eyes, do not let yourself be led into the erratic terrain of mistakes and defeats,” Maduro told the president, “and repeat the same mistakes of George Bush and the Clinton-Obama clan.”

Maduro demanded a public apology earlier this week from the U.S. Department of the Treasury for imposing sanctions on Vice President Tareck El Aissami, whom the Treasury Department accused of having known ties with narco-terrorist organizations operating in the Western Hemisphere. El Aissami’s name also surfaced repeatedly in reports accusing the Chavista government of issuing passports and other legal documentation to non-Venezuelan citizens affiliated with the Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah.

Maduro took over Venezuelan in 2013 after the death of late dictator Hugo Chávez. Under his rule, socialist food rations and nationalization of businesses has resulted in a severe shortage of basic goods. 15 percent of Venezuelans survive by scavenging through the garbage areas of markets for the least rotten discarded food. 72 percent cannot procure three meals a day for themselves and their families.

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