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Trial Imminent for Detained Venezuelan Protest Leader Lopez

Lilian Tintori, wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, speaks during a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government and in support of Lopez, in Caracas, Venezuela, June 8, 2014.
Lilian Tintori, wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, speaks during a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government and in support of Lopez, in Caracas, Venezuela, June 8, 2014.
VOA News

As jailed Venezuelan opposition member Leopoldo Lopez prepares to go on trial Wednesday in Caracas for his role in protests earlier this year, his wife appealed to the international community for his release.

Speaking Monday at the National Press Club in Washington, Lilian Tintori told VOA the case against Lopez, who has been detained since February, needs outside pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who has been repeatedly accused of human rights violations against his opponents.

"Leopoldo Lopez represents a nation-wide sentiment in Venezuela. There are millions of us who want a change," said  Tintori. "We want to make Leopoldo's case known everywhere in the world. And from here [in Washington] to demand that Maduro free Leopoldo."

Lopez, 43, founder of opposition party Popular Will, is charged with public incitement, property damage and criminal conspiracy following opposition-led protests that turned deadly when state forces violently clashed with demonstrators, killing dozens of people. He could face a decade in prison if convicted.

Lopez's human rights attorney, Jared Genser, also spoke in Washington, calling the trial "a joke."

"Given the lack of judicial independence and the weight of political pressure being placed on judges and in this case, yet another temporary judge who isn't even permanently appointed to the position, we have no confidence that Leopoldo will receive a fair hearing," said Genser.

A warrant for Lopez's arrest was issued in February. Shortly after he surrendered to Venezuelan authorities, Amnesty International came to the defense of the U.S.-educated former mayor of a Caracas municipality.

A statement from the human rights organization said the charges against Lopez "smack of a politically motivated attempt to silence dissent in the country."

In an interview with VOA in Caracas, Lopez's attorney said the trial could take months. His legal team is going by the books, Tintori said, but that isn't enough in Venezuela right now.

"We believe everything should be done according to due process, and that is what we've been doing. But we're facing, as you know, justice that is unjust in Venezuela," said Tintori.

Late Monday, Tintori announced that her husband had been released from isolation after two months of what she called "extreme psychological torture" in which he had been denied visitors.

The youngest of the couple's two children learned to walk in his father's cell before jail officials limited his family's access, Tintori told VOA.

"I promise my son Leopoldo Santiago that he's going to walk alongside his dad, and he's going to see Venezuela transform," she said.

VOA's Latin American service contributed to this report.

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