High-profile Venezuelan prisoner granted house arrest

CARACAS (Reuters) - A high-profile imprisoned former Caracas police commissioner left jail on Saturday after a judge allowed him to continue his 30-year sentence from home due to frail health, his family said.

Former Caracas police commissioner Ivan Simonovis (L) closes a door at his house in Caracas September 20, 2014. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Ivan Simonovis was convicted of participating in the assassination of four protesters during a march that triggered a brief coup against the late President Hugo Chavez in 2002.

Freedom for Simonovis, 54, has been a rallying cry for Venezuela’s opposition parties, who say he has been held in a tiny cell and needs urgent attention for osteoporosis.

“My husband @Simonovis is at home with us, his family,” his wife Bony Pertinez said in a Tweet. “The judge in charge granted @Simonovis home arrest ... so he can receive medical treatment.”

Simonovis is banned from using social media, holding political rallies or speaking with media, Pertinez added.

The Supreme Court, however, said the measure was only temporary and he would return to prison once his health allowed.

To government supporters, Simonovis is a dangerous and violent saboteur who played a role in illegally unseating a democratically elected president. He was sentenced in 2009 after lengthy proceedings. Several other officers were convicted.

Simonovis is among several dozen opposition-linked figures who ended up in prison during Chavez’s 14-year rule from 1999.

Venezuela in February imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who led protests that rocked Venezuela.

Even if only temporary, Simonovis’ release will please Venezuela’s opposition but risks angering militants within President Nicolas Maduro’s ruling Socialist Party.

Pollster and analyst Luis Vicente Leon said the measure should help reduce political tension in the volatile South American OPEC member. “Simonovis’ liberation should be total, but I celebrate that the president has taken an internal risk with this move, albeit a partial one,” he said.

Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Elaine Hardcastle