July 8 (UPI) — Leopoldo Lopez, a Venezuelan opposition leader detained since 2014, has been abruptly released from prison and placed on house arrest.
The country’s supreme court confirmed the move Saturday, citing “irregularities” in his case and “information received about” Lopez’s health, the Miami Herald reported.
Following a closed-door trial, a judge sentenced Lopez in 2014 to almost 14 years in a military prison near Venezuela’s capital city, Caracas. President Nicolas Maduro had guided the nation’s public ministry to charge Lopez with conspiracy, public incitement, determinative in arson and in damages.
Lopez, a former mayor of an area within Caracas, had previously organized protests calling for free speech protection and an end to food shortages, among other demands. More than 40 people, both Lopez’s backers and pro-government demonstrators, died during the protests.
Demonstrations against the Maduro government have continued, often turning deadly.
Anti-Maduro activists are hopeful Lopez’s release is a step toward government reform.
“The dictatorship is crumbling fast in Venezuela, and this surprising decision may be a catalyst to recuperate democracy soon,” Garry Kasparov, chairman of the Human Rights Foundation, said in a statement. “Terms like ‘kangaroo court’ or ‘sham trial’ do not begin to describe what happened to López since his arrest in 2014.”