Human right group says Venezuela releases 36 prisoners

FILE - In this July 24, 2017 file photo, an anti-government demonstrator holds up an image of Venezuela's constitution during a tribute to those killed during protests against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela. Maduro has provoked international outcry and enraged political opponents by pushing for a special assembly tasked with rewriting the troubled South American nation’s constitution. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano, File)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan officials released dozens of prisoners accused of inciting violence against the government during street protests, a human rights organization said Sunday.

Alfredo Romero, director of Foro Penal, said that 36 prisoners were released over the weekend, but he remained critical of the government's tactics.

"Better yet, instead of releasing a few, free everyone and don't incarcerate anymore," Romero said on Twitter.

Among the first prisoners to walk free was Alfredo Ramos, the former mayor of the northern town of Iribarren, and professor Carlos Perez, who spent more than three years in jail, local media reported.

Nearly half of the prisoners were granted release more than a year ago, but had remained behind bars. Others were never convicted of crimes, Romero said.

Opposition leaders accuse President Nicolas Maduro of using harsh tactics to control government opponents and are pressing for prisoners to be let go in ongoing negotiations with the ruling socialist party.

But the latest releases show that Maduro, who is desperately looking for support as the country tries to refinance its huge foreign debt, may be willing to compromise on some of their demands.

On Saturday, national constituent assembly president Delcy Rodriguez referred to the next round of negotiations in January and wished several of the prisoners a merry Christmas.

She announced that a total of 80 prisoners who were accused of instigating violence dating back to 2014 were under review for release.

Foro Penal reports that the Venezuelan government still holds more than 200 political prisoners.

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