Venezuela high court releases 4 government opponents

AP News
Posted: Mar 18, 2015 1:53 PM

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Four Venezuelans arrested during a crackdown on anti-government protests last year have been released from jail following widespread international condemnation and the recent suicide of an imprisoned government opponent.

Of the four released, the most prominent is Christian Holdack, who is standing trial alongside the nation's most-prominent anti-government prisoner, Leopoldo Lopez, on charges they perpetrated violence at a demonstration in February 2013.

The Supreme Court late Tuesday granted Holdack bail in response to his lawyers' plea that he was suffering from depression and was at risk of committing suicide if he remained locked up. In recent days, Holdack was reported to have initiated a hunger strike to draw attention to his plight.

Tuesday night, the 34-year-old walked out of the police station in eastern Caracas where he had been held for the past year. He was greeted by Lopez's wife, Lilian Tintori, and a small group of former cellmates who were released previously.

Holdack, an amateur photographer, was filming protesters in Caracas when he was detained last year, according to his wife. The protest kicked off a wave of unrest against Venezuela's socialist government in which at least 43 people from both sides of the conflict died and 3,300 people were detained, although the vast majority of those were released long ago.

His release comes less than a week after a jailed government opponent, Rodolfo Gonzalez, committed suicide, drawing attention to what rights groups say are harsh prison conditions for the 40-plus opposition members still in custody

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Amnesty International this week called for Holdack to be released on humanitarian grounds, repeating his lawyers' assertions that he was unfairly imprisoned and had been beaten while in custody.

As a condition of his release, Holdack is required to report before the court every eight days and is banned from leaving the country.

Three lesser-known government opponents also were released in the past two days, Congressman Miguel Pizarro said Wednesday. He identified them as Julver Pulido, Juan Esqueda and Miguel Angel Nieto.

Pizarro called the releases important but cautioned that he sees no wider amnesty underway.