Leopoldo Lopez, a leading figure in the Venezuelan opposition movement, was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison on Thursday after a heated and divisive closed-door trial. File Photo by A.Davey/CC/Flickr
CARACAS, Venezuela, Sept. 10 (UPI) -- Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was sentenced on Thursday to nearly 14 years imprisonment as the strained South American country faces escalating uncertainty.
Lopez was sentenced to 13 years, 9 months and seven days to be served at the Ramo Verde military prison in the Los Teques municipality near the capital city of Caracas. He was found guilty on four charges: conspiracy, public incitement, determinative in arson and in damages.
The charges for Lopez's closed-door trial were put forward by Venezuela's Public Ministry, under the guidance of President Nicolas Maduro.
Lopez, leader of the Voluntad Popular -- or Popular Will -- opposition party and former mayor of Chacao, a municipality within Caracas, was arrested in February 2014 after handing himself over to authorities.
He organized protests early last year calling for better security, an end to food shortages and enhanced freedom of speech for citizens, but the protests turned deadly -- about 43 people died, both government supporters and opponents.
Maduro's government blamed Lopez partly for fueling tensions that led to the deadly demonstrations.
Three students, Cristian Holdack, Ángel González and Demián Martín, were also found guilty alongside Lopez.
Holdack was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment but due to health concerns his sentence was changed to a probationary period. He has to present himself to a tribunal every 15 days.
González and Martín were sentenced to four and a half years, which is lower than the amount needed to be served in prison as designated by Venezuela's Code of Criminal Procedure. They will instead also face a probationary period where they must present themselves to a tribunal every 15 days.
The sentences were designated by Susana Barreiros, the 28th trial judge of Caracas.
Venezuela is set for parliamentary elections scheduled for Dec. 6. The troubled country is facing more than a political crisis, as its economy is deteriorating and insecurity leads national discourse.
Venezuela has the fastest annual inflation rate in the world, estimated between 80 percent to 120 percent, and it is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world.
Lopez, 44, is considered a hero by many in the opposition, but pro-government supporters think of him as a riot-starting troublemaker.
The U.S. government and the United Nations are among many worldwide who have called for the release of Lopez and other political prisoners.
Lopez's supporters protested for days ahead of the ruling and his sentencing generated outrage.
"This criminal regime condemned an innocent man without evidence. All Venezuelans and the democratic world condemn this regime," María Corina Machado, member of Venezuela's National Assembly, said in a statement. "Venezuelans, as of this moment, the freedom of Leopoldo is not in the hands of judge Barreiros, it is in ours."
Juan C. Gutiérrez, Lopez's lawyer, vowed to appeal, promising to go through "all spaces and means to demand justice."
"This was not a legal judgment, attached to law, this was a political judgment that sought to sentence Leopoldo Lopez," Gutiérrez said in a statement.
Several hours after the sentencing, Voluntad Popular was able to release a message sent from Lopez: "Venezuela, do not lose for a minute your strength, hope and faith."