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Wives of jailed Venezuelan opposition leaders form political prisoner group

By Andrew V. Pestano
Wives of jailed Venezuelan opposition leaders form political prisoner group
The Families of Venezuelan Victims committee, seen here on Tuesday after a press conference, has called on President Nicolas Maduro's regime to free who they consider to be political prisoners, including opposition leaders Daniel Ceballos, Antonio Ledezma and Leopoldo Lopez. The wife of Lopez, Lilian Tintori, seen here kneeling down in the bottom center flanked by relatives of committee members, said the group has asked for help from the Organization of American States and the Vatican. Photo courtesy of Lilian Tintori

CARACAS, Venezuela, Sept. 14 (UPI) -- The wives of imprisoned Venezuelan political leaders on Tuesday said they have formed a committee for political prisoners' relatives to take on President Nicolas Maduro's regime.

The effort is being led by Lilian Tintori, the wife of Leopoldo Lopez -- the former mayor of Caracas' Chacao municipality who was sentenced last year to nearly 14 years in prison on charges that included conspiracy.

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Human rights groups and the Venezuelan opposition, consolidated in the Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition, estimate there are now at least 109 political prisoners. The opposition is working to hold a recall referendum this year that could oust Maduro from the presidency.

"The relatives of political prisoners urge respect for the constitution and that the 2016 recall is realized," Tintori said in a statement. "We demand healthcare for all political prisoners. And more urgently for those with more delicate health."

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Tintori said the committee has asked for the Organization of American States and the Vatican's assistance as "trustworthy" mediators to "ascertain the current situation of political prisoners" and to hold a "serious" dialogue.

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Patricia Gutierrez, the wife of Daniel Ceballos -- former mayor of San Cristobal -- and Mitzy Capriles, the wife of Antonio Ledezma -- former mayor of Caracas -- are also part of the committee.

Capriles said the committee demands the opposition coalition require "the release of all the political prisoners since their liberation is synonymous with democracy and freedom" before it makes any deals with Maduro's government.

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Tintori said the group, called Families of Venezuelan Victims, will file a formal complaint with the International Criminal Court over alleged crimes against humanity committed by Maduro's regime.

"I reiterate our concern about human rights violations and systematic persecution happening in Venezuela, arbitrary detention, torture and other crimes against humanity of which the government thinks differently," Tintori said in a statement. "As we have always said, we will not rest until Venezuela's democracy and respect for the rights of all Venezuelans alike are restored. In this regard, we announced that we will go again before the ICC and others to report the crimes against humanity."

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