Published on 11 September 2015 by Venezuela Analysis
A Venezuelan judge sentenced far right opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez to 13 years and nine months in prison Thursday evening for his role in leading last year’s violent anti-government protests.
Venezuelan judge Susana Barreiros found Lopez guilty of public incitement to violence and association to commit crimes. In particular, Barreiros cited over 700 tweets which she says urged supporters to take the streets to demand the “exit” of democratically elected President Nicolas Maduro.
Beginning on February 12, 2014 and lasting several months, the protests saw opposition supporters set up violent street barricades that led to the deaths of 43 people, over half of whom were security personnel and passersby.
Lopez was arrested on February 14 after clashes saw armed opposition backers attack the Public Prosecutor’s office and other government buildings, leading to several deaths and widespread public property damage.
Born into one of Venezuela's wealthiest families, Lopez is also well known for playing an active role in the US-sponsored 2002 coup which saw then-president Hugo Chavez briefly ousted from office. The arrest of the Harvard-educated lawyer has attracted widespread coverage from international news outlets, which have drawn comparisons between the rightwing politician and both Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.
The high profile trial, which took place over the span of a year and involved 70 hearings, was reportedly dragged out by delay tactics on the part of the Lopez team, including failing to show up for court on several occasions and mounting a thirty day hunger strike.
Responding to the ruling, Lopez told the judge, “You are more afraid to dictate the sentence than I am to hear it”. The statement has been construed by some as a veiled threat. The Lopez defense team has announced that it will appeal the decision.