A Venezuelan judge whose imprisonment since the end of 2009 has been a cause celebre for opponents of President Hugo Chavez’s government was granted house arrest instead of jail on Wednesday.
Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni, who supporters had said was ill, went straight to a clinic from her cell in a women’s prison in Los Teques outside Caracas.
She was arrested for freeing a banker accused of corruption but held without trial for three years.
A furious Chavez had said she should be jailed for 30 years. Authorities accused her of violating process by calling banker Eligio Cedeno into a hurried hearing then releasing him via a back door, after which he fled to the United States.
But Afiuni and supporters said she took the correct action because Cedeno was not charged, and was victimised by the government because it wanted the banker kept behind bars.
Afiuni’s lawyer, Jose Amalio Graterol, welcomed judicial authorities’ decision to allow her out of jail while the case proceeded. “They realised they were carrying out a death sentence against her,” he told reporters.
Afiuni’s is one of the highest profile in a string of cases against public figures including opposition politicians. Critics say Chavez is riding roughshod over the judiciary, persecuting foes and turning Venezuela into a dictatorship.
But Chavez and supporters say there are no political prisoners, with legitimate cases of corruption and malpractice being manipulated by opponents to besmirch the government.
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