US State Department spokesman Ned Price called for a fair hearing for Matthew Heath, who was arrested in September.
In a hearing Wednesday, a Venezuelan criminal court ordered a trial for Matthew Heath, a US citizen detained in the South American country on terrorism charges and accused of being an American spy, Heath’s lawyer said Thursday.
Heath, 39, was arrested in September 2020 in northwestern Venezuela and charged with terrorism and arms trafficking. His defense attorney Guillermo Heredia said he dismissed the “bogus” charges in Wednesday’s hearing, which lasted until midnight.
US citizen Matthew Heath has been detained in Venezuela for the past year. We call on the Venezuelan authorities to ensure that he enjoys a transparent, fair and public hearing that respects all the guarantees of a fair trial.
– Ned Price (@StateDeptSpox) February 22, 2021
President Nicolas Maduro at the time of Heath’s arrest mentionned he spied on the oil refineries of the OPEC nation and carried “specialized weapons”. U.S. officials at the time said Heath was not sent to Venezuela by Washington.
No further court date has been set, Heredia said, adding that Heath was being held at the headquarters of Venezuela’s military counterintelligence leadership, known as DGCIM.
Heath was stopped with National Guard Sergeant Major Darwin Urdaneta, Marcos Garces and Daeven Rodriguez, the driver of the vehicle. The three Venezuelans have been charged with treason, terrorism, arms trafficking and conspiracy.
State Department spokesman Ned Price blasted Maduro on Thursday, saying that human rights abuses continued to escalate under the ruler’s rule and that the ruler and his allies used violence to to maintain control over the country.
“We believe Maduro is a dictator,” Price said at a press briefing, “Maduro is corrupt, that Maduro is responsible for the suffering of his people.”
Venezuela is plunged into a deep political, social and economic crisis attributed to falling oil prices and two decades of mismanagement under Maduro’s administration. The oil-rich country has been in recession for years, and millions of people live in poverty amid high food prices, low wages and double-digit inflation.