Venezuela to court annuls amnesty law for political prisoners

April 12, 2016 8:30 am

A view of the entrance of the Supreme Court building in Caracas, , taken on February 12, 2016 ©AFP

The Venezuelan Supreme Court has annulled an amnesty law that was passed by opposition-controlled congress to free dozens of political prisoners.
The congress, known as the National Assembly, had passed the law in March to secure the release of nearly 80 prisoners, including politicians, students and military officers, who had received jails terms of up to 13 years.
Around half of the political prisoners were jailed on charges of inciting violence during the 2014 anti-government protests that killed over 40 people.
The top court ruled that the law could not stand because it violates the rights of those killed during the 2014 demonstrations.
President Nicolas Maduro had earlier described the legislation as “the most criminal law ever approved.” He had said the law was an attempt to destabilize his rule and liberate the prisoners blamed for the unrest in 2014.
Among the prisoners who would have been freed by the amnesty law is senior opposition figure lawis Leopoldo Lopez, a leader of the violent anti-Caracas protests.
His arrest sparked anger among opposition backers and caused the United States to impose sanctions on Venezuelan officials for alleged rights abuses.
Lopez is serving an almost 14-year sentence for provoking violence during 2014 protests.
Meanwhile, congressional leaders still want the bill to be enacted despite the Supreme Court ruling; however, the law is unlikely to come into force in the wake of the verdict.
The opposition swept two thirds of the seats in the Venezuelan legislature in 2015. It won the parliamentary polls on the promise to work for the release of political prisoners.

People protest against the amnesty law approved by the National Assembly in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, on April 7, 2016. ©AFP

Opposition lawmakers said earlier this month that they are seeking to push through a constitutional amendment that would limit the president’s power and reduce the current six-year presidential term.
The opposition-held congress is also seeking to reshape the Supreme Court and take it out of the government’s control. It has approved a new law allowing the introduction of more judges into the Supreme Court of Justice.
However, officials say the congress seeks to build a pro-opposition majority of judges to launch an impeachment against Maduro.
The opposition figures have already hinted at a new constitution or a recall referendum before Maduro’s term in office expires in 2019.
The opposition coalition’s executive secretary, Jesus Torrealba, has vowed the alliance would make use of all means available to oust Maduro.
The government of President Maduro, however, has denounced the opposition’s plans as a US-backed attempt to bring about a coup d’état in the oil-rich country that is home to 29 million people.
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