Jailed Ce­bal­los to be placed un­der house ar­rest

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY HAN­NAH DREIER

One of the Venezue­lan op­po­si­tion’s most prom­i­nent lead­ers will be re­leased to house ar­rest while he awaits trial, the gov­ern­ment said Tues­day, stir­ring hope for the dozens of ad­min­is­tra­tion crit­ics who re­main be­hind bars.

The public pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice an­nounced that Daniel Ce­bal­los, a for­mer mayor of the restive western city of San Cris­to­bal, would be re­leased for health rea­sons. He suf­fered from kid­ney and stom­ach prob­lems dur­ing a 20-day hunger strike in June, ac­cord­ing to his sup­port­ers.

At­tor­ney Juan Car­los Gu­tier­rez said Ce­bal­los, who is charged with “civil re­bel­lion,” will be able to seek bet­ter med­i­cal care while liv­ing at the apart­ment of a rel­a­tive in Cara­cas, but it is less than the full free­dom he de­serves.

The re­lease could sig­nal that the coun­try’s so­cial­ist ad­min­is­tra­tion is tak­ing a new ap­proach to the more than 50 anti-gov­ern­ment ac­tivists hu­man rights groups say re­main jailed on in­vented charges.

“Ce­bal­los was jailed on some heavy charges. I think this is go­ing to give the other pris­on­ers a lot of rea­son to hope that the same thing will hap­pen to them,” said Dim­itris Pan­toulas, a po­lit­i­cal and busi­ness con­sul­tant based in Cara­cas.

The 31-year-old for­mer mayor went on a 20-day hunger strike with another jailed op­po­si­tion leader, Leopoldo Lopez, to de­mand that the gov­ern­ment set a date for con­gres­sional elec­tions and re­lease the peo­ple they con­sider po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers. The elec­tion date has now been set, and sev­eral pris­on­ers have been freed.

In May, Ce­bal­los won a pri­mary from be­hind bars to run for a con­gres­sional seat, but elec­tions of­fi­cials later barred him from hold­ing public of­fice.

Ce­bal­los was ar­rested in March 2014 on charges re­lated to his sup­port of anti-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tions in San Cris­to­bal that helped ig­nite a bloody na­tion­wide protest move­ment. He was ex­pected to be re­united with his wife and chil­dren Tues­day night, and to be bound by terms stan­dard for this kind of re­lease pro­hibit­ing him from speak­ing to the press, post­ing on so­cial media, or en­gag­ing in po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity.

U.S. of­fi­cials have made the re­lease of Lopez and Ce­bal­los a key de­mand in on­go­ing high-level talks aimed at nor­mal­iz­ing re­la­tions.

Re­leas­ing Ce­bal­los to house ar­rest al­lows the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro to make a good­will ges­ture to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, and may have the added ben­e­fit of tak­ing away some of the op­po­si­tion leader’s power as a sym­bol of in­jus­tice.

diplo­matic

Pan­toulas pointed to the case of Cara­cas mayor An­to­nio Ledezma, who was re­leased to house ar­rest for health rea­sons in April, and has be­come some­thing of an af­ter­thought in op­po­si­tion calls to free po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers.

“When it’s house ar­rest, peo­ple don’t con­sider them jailed any­more,” Pan­toulas said.

AP

Pa­tri­cia Ce­bal­los wife of op­po­si­tion leader Daniel Ce­bal­los cries as she speaks to the media out­side of her apart­ment in Cara­cas, Venezuela, Tues­day, Aug. 11.

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