WASHINGTON - Venezuelan photojournalist Jesus Medina was released late Monday from a military prison southwest of Caracas following 16 months in detention, according to Venezuela-based rights organization Foro Penal.
Medina, a photographer for the Florida-registered black market dollar website Dolar Today, was arrested in late August 2018 on charges of inciting hate and criminal association while producing an investigative project about a Caracas hospital.
He was released from Ramo Verde military prison late Monday along with at least seven other inmates, including Carlos Marron, the one-time owner of another U.S. based site that tracks Venezuelan bolivar exchange rates.
Marron had been held since April 2018 on charges of financial terrorism and promoting currency speculation.
The administration of President Nicolas Maduro maintains tight control over the legal exchange of bolivars, using a complicated three-tier system that is meant to subsidize crucial imports, but also has led to widespread corruption and speculation.
Privately operated exchange-tracking sites like Dolar Today, which have drawn the ire of Maduro, also have become platforms for supporting opposition leader Juan Guaido and his National Assembly backers.
Medina's release followed negotiations between Maduro's ruling Socialists and minority parties. Those talks occurred just one day after riot police blocked Guaido from entering the assembly chamber for what was expected to be his re-election as head of the opposition-dominated legislature.
With Guaido blocked, former opposition ally Luis Parra declared himself assembly leader with the support of 81 lawmakers, a tally rejected by the majority opposition, which hastily organized another vote at a separate location. They claim that vote netted Guaido 100 of the chamber's 167 votes.
On Tuesday, Guaido, recognized by the United States and dozens of its allies as Venezuela's legitimate president, took his place in the Parliament speaker's seat.
Some observers call the decision to release the prisoners part of a broader strategy to further marginalize Guaido, whose demands for their release has been a prominent part of his opposition platform.
Foro Penal said Venezuela had 388 political prisoners behind bars as of Dec. 30, 2019, a figure the Maduro government denies.
According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Medina was one of three journalists jailed in the Americas in 2019, with the other two held in Honduras and Cuba.
In its 2019 annual World Press Freedom Index, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders ranks Venezuela 148 out of 180 countries, in which 1 is considered the freest.
Some information in this report is from Reuters.