CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – 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.