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Today, Leopoldo López is celebrating – if that’s the right word – his 43rd birthday from solitary confinement in Ramo Verde military prison, which he has called home for 70 days now as he awaits trial for charges of arson and criminal instigation.
His cell, where he spends 22 hours a day, is a minuscule 9 square meter space containing a bed and a sink. Ever since he was jailed, López has been kept in a maximum security area known to prison wardens as “the annex, ” on the second floor of the building. When he was first interned in his cell, “the annex” seemed to have suffered a small fire: the walls were covered in soot, the lamps were melted, and there was very little light. His legal team says some maintenance has been performed since then to improve at least that aspect.
When Leopoldo was sent to the annex, the authorities at Ramo Verde immediately set about increasing security there. A series of fences were added between each stairwell, as well as several additional cells, since assigned to mayors Enzo Scarano and Daniel Ceballos, as well as San Diego municipal police chief Salvatore Lucchese.
Leopoldo remains in solitary confinement with no end in sight. He can only receive visits from close family members and his lawyers. Access has been denied to his priest for confession, and he has not been allowed to attend mass. It’s worth noting that the Committee Against Torture, the European Court of Human Rights, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have made it clear that solitary confinement should be an exceptional measure of limited duration that is subject to strict judicial review when applied and prolonged.
Leopoldo’s legal team has had repeated problems with correspondence, since he is forbidden from sending written messages to the outside. All letters sent to him are extensively scrutinized and in several instances, have been retained altogether.
His legal team has also had problems with legal documents, which are also subject to extensive review by the prison guard, an issue which violates client-attorney privilege and professional standards of privacy. These revisions have been carried out to such an extent that sometimes legal council has been strip searched on their way out of meetings with their client, in order to make sure that no information is being leaked.
The prison authorities restrict access to any material deemed “politically sensitive.” He may not receive books, flyers and other documents that may be considered forms of political proselytism.
Last friday, a journalist and photographer from the spanish paper ABC accompanied López’s wife, Lilian Tontori and her two children to Ramo Verde. According to this report, they were held against their will inside the compound for over three hours. The photographer’s camera was confiscated and he was interrogated at length. As punishment for having brought members of the press to Ramo Verde, Lilian has been told she will not be allowed to visit Leopoldo today, on his birthday, or for the next two weeks.