October 26, 2015 / 6:44 PM / in 2 years

Venezuela denies pressuring prosecutor in opposition leader's trial

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s chief prosecutor on Monday denied her office had put pressure on officials to use false evidence in the trial of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, days after a prosecutor in the case fled abroad and called the trial a “farce.”

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez pauses during an interview with Reuters in Caracas, February 11, 2014. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Franklin Nieves, one of the trial prosecutors, said in a video released on Friday that he was under constant pressure from superiors and that led to Lopez’ unfair imprisonment.

“At the State Prosecutors’ Office we don’t pressure anyone,” Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz said in a television interview. She said Nieves “allowed himself to be pressured. He gave in to pressures from foreign and domestic elements.”

Lopez’s supporters have said that Nieves’ testimony should be grounds for reversing the verdict. On TV, Ortega said those making that suggestion were “getting ahead of themselves.”

In September, Lopez was sentenced to nearly 14 years on charges stemming from his role in a wave of protests in 2014 that left 43 people dead. Opposition critics slammed the proceedings as a political witch hunt that violated due process.

Though he had publicly called for peaceful resistance to the government and was behind bars during most of the unrest, prosecutors said his speeches sent subliminal messages and constituted a call to violence.

President Nicolas Maduro accused Lopez of seeking to overthrow his government and calls him the “Monster of Ramo Verde” in reference to the military prison where he is held.

Maduro’s critics say the judicial system is controlled by the ruling Socialist Party and widely used to intimidate government adversaries, an accusation echoed by former Supreme Court Magistrate Eladio Aponte who fled the country in 2012.

Lopez’ wife, Lilian Tintori, urged his release on Monday.

“It’s clear the case was manipulated, a complete farse,” she said during a visit to the eastern city of Maracaibo.

“The declaration of that prosecutor reflects the unjust justice of Venezuela ... With that crucial testimony, it is again obvious that Leopoldo Lopez is innocent.”

The prosecutor’s whereabouts were unknown.

Additional reporting by Diego Ore and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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