Facing the largest anti-government protests in his 11 months in power, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro appears ready to move forward with the prosecution of a leading opposition figure on charges of terrorism and murder.
Three anti-government protesters and one government supporter have died in clashes around the country.
The man the government blames for the deaths is opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who turned himself in to authorities on Tuesday.
Human rights groups warn about the danger of turning the protests into a persecution of political opponents.
The charges against Lopez, who has organized protests demanding better security, an end to shortages and protected freedom of speech, “smack of a politically motivated attempt to silence dissent in the country,” Amnesty International said in a statement.
Human Rights Watch weighed in too, warning that Venezuela must avoid “scapegoating” political opponents.
But the way forward seemed set, with Lopez expected to appear in court Wednesday.
Charges against him include murder, terrorism and arson in connection with the protests, according to his party, Popular Will.
Lopez denies the accusations, the party said in a statement, which talso asked witnesses of the protests to send their own accounts of what happened to be used in his defense.
“The last thing he said to me was for me to not forget what he is going through,” his wife, Lilian Tintori de Lopez, said in an interview with CNN en Español. “Not forget that he is arrested for things that he has asked for: the liberation of political prisoners, liberation of students, no more oppression, no more violence.”
She called on his supporters to join her at the justice building for his appearance Wednesday morning.
SOURCE: Mariano Castillo. Catherine E. Shoichet and Jethro Mullen