ASUNCION, Paraguay – A protester had nails driven through his hands Wednesday, staging a mock crucifixion to press for the release of a former army general serving a 10-year sentence for plotting a coup d'etat.
Tomas Velazquez was affixed to a stout cross with duct tape and had each hand nailed to the wood during the demonstration outside of Paraguay's Supreme Court, where supporters of jailed-former Gen. Lino Cesar Oviedo had gathered in protest.
A grimacing Velazquez said he and four other Oviedo followers were beginning a liquids-only hunger strike to protest Oviedo's imprisonment, which they said was politically motivated.
"The Supreme Court must review this conviction," Velazquez declared. "In 1998, Oviedo was convicted by a military tribunal but that is illegal in times of peace. We believe that he is being politically persecuted."
Authorities have rejected charges of improprieties in the handling of the case, but Supreme Court President Raul Torres said the court would review the protester's petition as matter of course.
Oviedo's 1998 conviction effectively ended his campaign to be elected Paraguay president the same year.
A charismatic populist, Oviedo speaks the Guarani Indian language and commanded a strong following among peasants and other groups in this poor, landlocked nation who were inspired by his calls for new social benefits, land reform and other help.
Oviedo's conviction stems from a short-lived 1996 rebellion against former-President Juan Carlos Wasmosy.
Oviedo, 65, is completing the second year of his sentence at a military prison on the outskirts of Asuncion. He has continued to deny plotting against Wasmosy, the first elected civilian president since the February 1989 ouster of former dictator Alfredo Stroessner, who ruled the country for 35 years.