Venezuela government releases 36 political opponents from jails

Caracas (AFP) –


The Venezuelan government has released fewer than half of the 80 jailed political opponents it promised to free over Christmas as a goodwill gesture, human rights observers said on Sunday.

"Thirty-six political prisoners have been released since yesterday," Alfredo Romero of the rights group Foro Penal said on Twitter.

Delcy Rodriguez, president of the Constitutuent Assembly and head of its Truth Commission investigating protests against President Nicolas Maduro's government, said on Saturday that Christmas was "a moment of reconciliation" and promised to free 80 inmates.

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

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

"I feel happy for my freedom," Ramos told journalists upon his release. "It was a hard test, quite difficult."

But he also lashed out at his sentence.

"It was an arbitrary, unjust detention -- I committed no crime," he added.

Opposition forces accuse Maduro of dismantling democratic institutions and setting up the Constituent Assembly to rubber-stamp his policies.

One non-governmental group has put the number of "political prisoners" at 268. The government has disputed that label, insisting that all are being held for acts of violence, conspiracy or treason.