Venezuelan authorities have freed two activists who were accused of plotting against President Nicolas Maduro from prison. The two - one of them a Spanish citizen - had been held for more than a year without trial.
The two freed individuals, Delson Guarate and Yon Goicoechea, left prison in the capital Caracas on November 3, but reportedly continued to be bound by restrictions on their movement and speech, according to their lawyers.
Delson Guarate, a former mayor in central Aragua state, and former student leader Yon Goicoechea were among nearly 400 jailed anti-Maduro activists. Human rights campaigners say these are political prisoners while Maduro's government considers them to be coup-plotters.
"Venezuela, everything will pass. Everything will be overcome. I'm with my family today. Tomorrow I'll address the country. God is with us," tweeted Goicoechea in Spanish.
"I'm free!" Guarate tweeted in Spanish.
Terrorism charges – without trial
Senior officials have labeled Goicoechea as an "imperialist" agent who allegedly was caught with explosives in his possession, while accusing Guarate of financing "terrorism." Neither was tried. Goicoechea was given Spanish citizenship during his detention, and former Spanish Prime Ministers Felipe Gonzalez and Jose Maria Aznar were both involved in his legal defense.
Yon Goicoechea smuggled a letter out of prison in which he described the inhumane conditions he was held under
Both Goicoechea and Guarate are members of the hard-line Popular Will party founded by Leopoldo Lopez, who had been Venezuela's most prominent jailed activist until he was released and placed under house arrest earlier this year.
Popular Will, which the government has threatened to proscribe as a terrorist organization, said it would not stop fighting for the freedom of all activists.
Inhumane conditions while incarcerated
In a New York Times column earlier this year, Goicoechea described the conditions of his arrest and incarceration, detailing how a dozen policemen put a black cloth over his head during his arrest before taking him to a cell without natural light or ventilation.
"When I stretched my arms, I could touch two opposite walls," he wrote in the column smuggled out of prison. "The door was blocked with black garbage bags, leaving the room in total darkness."
"There was rotten, worm-infested food on the floor alongside scraps of clothing covered in feces. It felt as if I had been buried alive."
Maduro's iron fist
Maduro's government has gradually been releasing about 15 jailed opponents per week since consolidating its power after the election of a constitutional assembly in July. President Maduro hopes to ease international pressure following months of unrest in his country which resulted in more than 120 deaths.
For more than a year, opposition leaders backed by several foreign governments have been demanding the release of prisoners as a pre-condition for talks with the government. In releasing its opponents, the government said it wanted to create conditions for dialogue and reconciliation under the authority of the constitutional assembly, which is made up entirely of government supporters after the opposition boycotted elections to choose its delegates.
Critics say Maduro has turned the nation into a dictatorship. His supporters, however, believe that the 54-year-old successor to the late President Hugo Chavez is resisting a Western-backed push to oust him.
ss/dj (AP, Reuters)