Venezuela releases another eight political opponents in Christmas goodwill gesture

A Venezuelan rights group says 44 opponents of Nicolas Maduro’s government have been released from prison, but nearly 200 others remain behind bars from crimes ranging from violence to subversion during anti-Maduro protests.

Members of the Chacao district's police arrive back at their workplace after being released from jail during a Christmas release from President Nicolas Maduro's government, on Dec 23.
Members of the Chacao district's police arrive back at their workplace after being released from jail during a Christmas release from President Nicolas Maduro's government, on Dec 23.PHOTO: REUTERS

CARACAS, VENEZUELA (AFP) - Venezuela's government on Monday (Dec 25) released another eight political opponents from jail, bringing to 44 the number freed since Saturday in a goodwill gesture timed to happen over Christmas.

But they are only a fraction of the number of political prisoners being held, the head of the rights group Foro Penal, Mr Alfredo Romero, told AFP.

"The government is interested in reducing the number of political prisoners to reduce the cost they represent. There are still 227 political prisoners - the highest number for any Christmas," Mr Romero said.

The Venezuelan regime had promised to release 80 inmates for Christmas. Ms Delcy Rodriguez, head of a Truth Commission investigating protests against President Nicolas Maduro's regime, had called the move a sign of "reconciliation".

Those jailed had been arrested during demonstrations demanding that Mr Maduro step down. Mass street protests began in 2014, when 43 people were killed in clashes, and have continued sporadically ever since, with 125 dead earlier this year.

The government rejects the label "political prisoners" for the opposition inmates, preferring to characterise them as common criminals.

Venezuela's opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition welcomed the release of the inmates.

But it said on Twitter that "they should never have been deprived of their freedom" as "striving to reconstruct a country ruined by the regime is not a crime".

Among those freed in the first wave was Mr Alfredo Ramos, mayor of the northwestern municipality of Irribarren, who was arrested in late July and handed a 15-month sentence.

 

The jailed political opponents were among the issues discussed in talks, held in the Dominican Republic, between the government and the opposition.

The dialogue is aimed at trying to find a political solution to the dire crisis engulfing Venezuela, a once-rich oil-producing nation that is now partially in default on its debts, with scarcities of food and medicine.

A third round of talks is due to take place on Jan 11-12.