CARACAS: Jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison for inciting violence during deadly protests in 2014.
The popular dissident, a US-trained economist who has been held at a military prison since February 2014, is accused of inciting violence against the government of President Nicolas Maduro and attempting to force his ouster.
Defense lawyer Roberto Marrero made the announcement late Thursday on his Twitter account, noting that Lopez will be held at the Ramo Verde military prison, the site where he is currently being held.
The sentence was for 13 years, nine months and seven days.
“If the sentence condemns me you will be more fearful to read it than I will be to hear it, because you know that I’m innocent,” Lopez defiantly told the judge according to a witness, David Smolansky.
Smolansky, a Caracas neighborhood mayor who was at the closed-door hearing, described Lopez’s appearance via Twitter.
Fighting broke out earlier in the day between supporters of Lopez, 44, and pro-government demonstrators outside the courthouse.
Wielding sticks and plastic bottles, supporters of socialist president Maduro’s government descended on a group of Lopez’s followers who had been waiting since the early hours of the morning for the final phase of his trial.
Lopez supporters said one of their activists had died of a heart attack during the scuffle — a claim that could not be independently verified.
The police and National Guard later intervened to keep the two groups apart.
The charges against Lopez are linked to protests against the Maduro administration in which 43 people died and some 3,000 were wounded between January and May 2014.
Another Lopez attorney, Juan Carlos Gutierrez, said the trial was plagued with irregularities, reflecting the “lack of independence” of the Venezuelan judicial system.
Scores of members of Popular Will, Lopez’s center-right party, held a vigil in the Caracas neighborhood of Chacao. Several women burst into tears upon hearing the verdict.
Reports quickly surfaced on social media of heavy pot-banging — a popular sign of anger — in downtown Caracas in opposition to the ruling.
The courtroom session began at noon and went into the night because three other people, all students, were also being tried.
One was sentenced to 10 years in prison for participating in the riots, and the other two got four years each.