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Venezuela frees jailed police chief whose imprisonment rallied opposition

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 29:  Handcuffs are seen on the hands of a twenty-year old "Street Villains" gang member who was arrested by Los Angeles Police Department officers from the 77th Street division on April 29, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The 77th Street division patrol the same neighborhood that truck driver Reginald Denny was nearly beaten to death by a group of black assailants at the intersection of Florence and Normandie Avenues. It?s been 20 years since the verdict was handed down in the Rodney King case that sparked infamous Los Angeles riots.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 29: Handcuffs are seen on the hands of a twenty-year old "Street Villains" gang member who was arrested by Los Angeles Police Department officers from the 77th Street division on April 29, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The 77th Street division patrol the same neighborhood that truck driver Reginald Denny was nearly beaten to death by a group of black assailants at the intersection of Florence and Normandie Avenues. It?s been 20 years since the verdict was handed down in the Rodney King case that sparked infamous Los Angeles riots. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)  (2012 Getty Images)

A former Caracas police chief whose decade-long imprisonment had rallied Venezuela's opposition has been released from jail to serve the remainder of his sentence at home.

Ivan Simonovis had been jailed since 2004 in connection with the death of pro-government protesters who had rushed to the defense of then-President Hugo Chávez during a failed coup attempt two years earlier. In 2009, he was convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Before dawn Saturday, his wife posted a message on Twitter saying that Simonovis was at home and will serve the rest of his sentence with police posted outside. The judge authorizing his release banned her husband from making statements to the press or using social media, she said.

"When you believe deeply in something there's no other way except for it to come true," Bony Simonovis wrote on Twitter, asking for privacy so her husband could reconnect with his family. "God is great and merciful."

In May, the 54-year-old former police chief briefly underwent a hunger strike to protest Venezuelan courts' refusal to grant him release on humanitarian grounds. His lawyers at the time said he his health was deteriorating rapidly from 19 illnesses including several problems in his back and spinal cord.

His case became a major focus of short-lived attempt at dialogue between the socialist government and leaders of the opposition following a wave of anti-government protests this year blamed for at least 42 deaths.

As part of those talks, President Nicolás Maduro agreed to form a medical commission to study the case. Even so, he repeatedly rejected an amnesty for Simonovis and other people the opposition considers political prisoners, instead accusing the former police commissioner of crimes against humanity.

Simonovis' release comes as Maduro prepares to travel to the United Nations next week to win support for Venezuela's bid for a two-year seat on the Security Council. Latin American nations unanimously support the candidacy, but human rights groups and members of Venezuela's opposition argue Maduro's crack down on protests and jailing of his political foes violate the council's goal of defending human rights.

The government has yet to comment on Simonovis' release.

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