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US slams Venezuela court's decision to uphold dissident's jail term

Leopoldo Lopez, who has been one of President Nicolas Maduro's staunchest opponent, has denied involvement in any wrongdoing. Photograph: (Getty)

AFP Washington, United States Aug 16, 2016, 08.27 AM (IST)
The United States on Monday denounced what it called a "miscarriage of justice" in Venezuela, where a court last week upheld the 14-year prison sentence for opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

Washington and Caracas, which have had frosty relations in recent years and have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010, regularly trade such barbs, particularly surrounding the South American nation's ongoing political crisis.

Lopez, one of leftist President Nicolas Maduro's most hardline opponents, has repeatedly declared himself innocent of the crime for which he was convicted -- inciting violence at anti-government protests in 2014.

"The United States is deeply concerned by the Venezuelan Court of Appeals decision to allow the miscarriage of justice to continue against political prisoner Leopoldo Lopez," State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said.

The 45-year-old US-educated economist was arrested in February 2014 amid a wave of pro- and anti-government protests that swept Venezuela and left 43 people dead.

Trudeau said that since his arrest and subsequent sentencing in September 2015, the United States has "underscored our concern with the unsubstantiated and politically motivated charge brought against Mr Lopez."

Lopez's sentence, handed down after a closed-door trial, was strongly condemned by the United Nations, the United States and the European Union.

The 14-year sentence was upheld in the court of appeals on Friday.

"The United States calls on the government of Venezuela to guarantee the rights of Mr Lopez and all political prisoners to due process, freedom from arbitrary arrest and a fair, public and impartial trial," Trudeau said.

Once-booming Venezuela, home to the world's largest oil reserves, is gripped by recession that have contributed to severe shortages of food, medicine and basic goods that have triggered violence and looting.

The opposition is racing to force a referendum to recall Maduro from office, blaming him for the crisis and mishandling the state-led economy.

"Rather than silencing peaceful democratic dissent, now is the time for Venezuela's leaders to listen to diverse voices and work together to find solutions to the political, social and economic challenges facing the Venezuelan people," Trudeau said.

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