Venezuela releases dozens of political prisoners ahead of talks | News | DW | 24.12.2017
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Venezuela releases dozens of political prisoners ahead of talks

The prisoner release is a Christmas goodwill gesture ahead of talks between the Maduro government and the opposition. More than 200 political prisoners still remain behind bars.

The Venezuelan government said Sunday it would release 80 prisoners accused of inciting violent protests against President Nicolas Maduro.

By Sunday 36 "political prisoners" had been released, the human rights organization providing free legal assistance, 'Foro Penal,' confirmed.

The Christmas goodwill gesture from the socialist government comes as it prepares for a new round of talks with the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) next month to try to end a debilitating political and economic crisis. The talks are being held in the Dominican Republic.

The opposition has called for the release of all political prisoners. After the weekend release, there remain more than 200 political prisoners, according to Foro Penal. 

The socialist government refuses to accept the term political prisoner, arguing those detained have incited violence or committed other crimes.

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Record number of political prisoners

Among the prisoners set free was former provincial mayor Alfredo Ramos, Professor Carlos Perez and dozens of policemen who worked in the opposition stronghold Chacao district of Caracas.

"I'm happy to be free. I'm with my family," Ramos told local media. "It was a tough ordeal, very difficult. It was an arbitrary detention, unjust. I didn't commit any crime."

Those released were detained for their alleged role in violent anti-government protests in 2014 and earlier this year.  Some 170 people were killed in the protests.

Alfredo Romero, director of Foro Penal, said that despite the weekend release there were a record number of political prisoners behind bars at Christmas time.

"It's better if not only some are freed but everyone, and that there are no more incarcerations," Romero said on Twitter.

The opposition accuses Maduro of running oil-rich Venezuela into the ground and shredding democracy.  Venezuela has hyper-inflation and there are shortages of basic goods and medicine.

Earlier this year Maduro took power away from the opposition-controlled parliament and handed it to a rubber stamp constituent assembly that was elected in a controversial vote.

cw/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)


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