A prominent leader of Venezuela's opposition, whose arrest has drawn international condemnation, will remain in jail as he awaits trial on charges of inciting violence at anti-government demonstrations.
A judge's ruling Thursday followed marathon deliberations lasting three days in which Leopoldo Lopez's attorneys argued that the former mayor was being hounded for his political beliefs.
Lopez, 43, is the combative head of the Popular Will party. Before turning himself in to authorities in February, he had been spearheading a movement to force President Nicolas Maduro's resignation.
Opponents of Maduro took to the streets in February to protest rampant crime, runaway inflation, a lack of economic opportunity and shortages of such basic goods such as toilet paper in the country with the world's largest proven oil reserves.
Authorities ordered Lopez’s arrest after three people were killed Feb. 12 during clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters. At least 42 people have been killed on both sides in three months of unrest, which has since died down to sporadic assemblies of small groups of protesters.
If convicted, the Harvard University-educated politician could face up to more than 13 years in jail. The trial is expected to begin in August, his lawyers said. Lopez is charged specifically with instigating arson and property damage and with criminal association.
The arrest has drawn widespread criticism abroad, with Amnesty International calling the charges against Lopez a "politically motivated attempt to silence dissent" at a time of mounting frustration with 57 percent inflation and record food shortages.
A report Thursday by the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists described cases of arbitrary detentions and intimidation of student protesters and political leaders that point to a lack of independence for judges and prosecutors.
Supporters on Thursday read a letter from Lopez written by hand from the courthouse in which he accused the judge presiding over his case of "selling her conscience to the corrupt powers." In a similarly defiant tone, allies called for a mass demonstration Sunday in the same Caracas plaza where Lopez in February emerged from days of hiding to turn himself into authorities after delivering a fiery speech to a huge crowd.