CARACAS, Venezuela — Jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was transferred to house arrest Saturday after spending more than three years behind bars in a military prison.
The Supreme Court, in a statement, said it had granted Lopez the “humanitarian measures” for health reasons and “serious signs of irregularities” in the handling of the case that it did not specify.
Outside Lopez’s house in the capital, Caracas, a few dozen supporters arrived carrying Venezuelan flags to celebrate along with journalists looking for information about whether the transfer may have been part of a larger deal between the opposition and President Nicolas Maduro’s government.
The opposition has been demanding the release of dozens of activists it consider political prisoners, the most prominent being Lopez, in order to initiate talks aimed at resolving a political crisis that has left more than 90 people dead and hundreds injured.
“We spoke for like 40 minutes. He’s hugging his children, he’s with his wife. …. I’m sure they are celebrating,” Lopez’s father, who shares his son’s name, said from exile in Spain. He said in recent days Lopez had been isolated in his prison cell without food and attributed his son’s transfer to the considerable international pressure on Maduro’s government.
“He told me himself recently: Dad, it’s always darkest right before the break of dawn,” he added.
Venezuela has been rocked by months of near-daily protests again this year. There has been widespread discontent over Maduro’s government amid shortages of basic goods, galloping inflation and allegations that Maduro is flouting democratic norms.
Lopez’s lawyer in Spain, Javier Cremades, said the terms of Lopez’s release mean he will be allowed to serve out his sentence at home and cannot leave.
“It is a gesture of weakness of the Maduro regime and of the opposition’s strength,” Cremades said. “It is a step forward, and very positive news.”
Lawmaker Gaby Arellano of Lopez’s Popular Will party said his release represents “the end of the dictatorship.”
Foreign governments and human rights groups have criticized Lopez’s detention as politically motivated. A Venezuelan prosecutor on the case who later sought asylum in the United States has said he was ordered by the government to arrest Lopez despite a lack of evidence.
Lilian Tintori, Lopez’s wife, has campaigned in Venezuela and abroad to try to win freedom for her husband.
In February she met with President Trump in the White House. Mr. Trump tweeted a photo of the Oval Office encounter and called for Lopez to be released “immediately.”
“It gives us great pleasure that Leopoldo Lopez is at his home with his family!” said Henrique Capriles, another opposition leader, via Twitter. “He must be given his full freedom, like all the political prisoners!”