The head of the Voluntad Popular opposition party, Leopoldo Lopez, was granted house arrest this morning in a surprise move that is still sending shockwaves throughout the country.
Lopez, who is nearly three years into a 14 year prison sentence at the Ramo Verde military prison, was convicted in September 2015 over his alleged role in the violence that shook Venezuela on February 12, 2014. His arrest, trial and detention was universally condemned as a farce with no basis in reality by human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights.
One of the two prosecutors who sent Lopez to prison, Franklin Nieves, defected from Venezuela following the conclusion of the trial, and told media on numerous occassions that he had acted under instructions from his superiors to falsify the entire case against Lopez.
Lopez was transferred out of the Ramo Verde prison and taken to his family home in Caracas at approximately 4:30 AM this morning.
The news broke first in Spanish media, suggesting that Jose Luis Zapatero may have had something to do with the move. Zapatero, who is a former Spanish prime minister, has been attempting to mediate peace between the PSUV and the opposition for several years now.
The measure does not mean that Lopez has been released from prison. House arrest means that, in effect, Lopez’s home is now his prison. Lopez’s father, Leopoldo Lopez Gil, said this morning that his son must now wear an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet, which is presumably set to send an alarm to the authorities if he leaves the home.
Individuals placed on house arrest typically have to adhere to strict regulations, which aside from prohibitions from leaving the home may include bans on receiving visitors, using communications devices like computers, and speaking to the media.
The image below, taken some time this morning, shows Lopez hugging his children in their home for the first time in almost three years:
TSJ Cites “Health Problems” As Reason for Move
The official Twitter account of the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ), Venezuela’s top court, confirmed Lopez’s house arrest this morning with the following message:
As per orders from [Chief Justice] Maikel Moreno, TSJ Penal Chamber grants house arrest to Leopoldo Lopez due to health reasons
Lopez Remains Defiant, Greets Crowd
Speaking to reporters and supporters outside of the Lopez home this afternoon, National Assembly vice president and fellow Voluntad Popular member Freddy Guevara read a statement from Lopez.
Part of Lopez’s message read:
If maintaining my commitment to fighting for freedom means risking having to return to a cell in Ramo Verde, I’m ready. Today I am a prisoner in my home, but so are the people of Venezuela.
People of Venezuela: let this victory turn into even greater commitment. With that in mind, we are announcing that we are returning to the streets tomorrow to fight.
Shortly after Guevara read the statement, Lopez climbed a ladder behind the front gate of his family home and greeted the jubilant crowd.
In the video, the crowd chants, “Si se puede!” [“Yes we can!”]:
Reaction to House Arrest Pours In
Reaction to Lopez’s house arrest poured in through social media throughout the day. Below, some takes on the move.
Overall, Venezuelan’s opposition leaders tended to coincide with the idea that while house arrest is a step in the right direction, Lopez–and the country’s other ~430 political prisoners–must now be unconditionally released.
National Assembly deputy and head of the Accion Democratica party, Henry Ramos Allup:
Leopoldo given house arrest. This has to be a step forward to his full release.
Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles:
We are very happy to hear that Leopoldo Lopez is in his home with his family! He must be fully released along with all other political prisoners!
Vente Venezuela leader Maria Corina Machado:
Lopez at home is a great step forward. Now the regime must free all political prisoners. Our presence on the streets and internal pressure DOES work!
National Assembly president and leader of the Primero Justicia party Julio Borges:
Our 100 day struggle has resulted in another great achievement. Leopoldo with his family. Now, toward your full release: keep moving forward, friend. Keep moving forward, Venezuela.
Leopoldo being at home gives the Venezuelan people more strength to keep fighting on the streets for Liberty. Venezuela stands firm.
Secretary General of the Organization of American States Luis Almagro:
We welcome the release [sic] of Leopoldo Lopez, which is an opportunity for national reconciliation and for a democratic solution to this serious crisis.
Leopoldo Lopez’s house arrest is only the first step. We demand the release of all political prisoners!
Joy, Caution Outside of Lopez’s Home in the Morning
There was a mixture of joy and caution outside the Lopez family home in Caracas this morning as the opposition leader begins a new and uncertain chapter of his detention.
The video below shows relatives and well-wishers outside of the Lopez home early this morning. One of the women in the video is Antonieta Lopez, Leopoldo’s mother:
The image below shows a vehicle belonging to the regime’s political police, the SEBIN, parked outside the Lopez home this morning:
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