Venezuela protest violinist alleges torture in custody

Opposition demonstrator Wuilly Arteaga plays the violin during a protest against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, on May 24, 2017 (AFP Photo/FEDERICO PARRA)
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Caracas (AFP) - A young violinist who became a symbolic feature of Venezuelan protests against President Nicolas Maduro alleged Thursday he was tortured while held in army custody.

Wuilly Arteaga, 23, made the claims after spending 19 days detained by Venezuela's National Guard following his arrest on July 27 on charges of instigating violence and carrying an incendiary device.

He was released on Tuesday on condition he report to court officials every eight days and with a ban on attending any more protests, he told reporters.

While held, "I was mistreated and tortured, together with all the prisoners that were there," he said.

Soldiers beat him on several occasions and used a lighter to set his hair on fire, he said.

He said a video presented Wednesday by the deputy leader of Maduro's Socialist Party, Diosdado Cabello, that purported to show him denying mistreatment had been manipulated through editing.

Arteaga called on Maduro's government to release "all the political prisoners."

The violinist had become an offbeat regular at the chaotic rallies that have sent shockwaves through Venezuela, as the opposition tries to force early elections to push Maduro out of office.

Amid the clamor, the skinny performer played traditional Venezuelan music or the national anthem.

The violinist was among some 50 people arrested on the second day of a 48-hour strike orchestrated by the opposition against Maduro and his plans to elect an assembly packed with loyalists to rewrite Venezuela's constitution.

A Venezuelan human rights group, Foro Penal, criticized Arteaga's bail condition and rejected prosecutors' allegations that the violinist carried a weapon.

It also slammed an order saying Arteaga could only have a public defender instead of one offered by the group.

Foro Penal says that since the rallies started, some 5,300 people have been arrested and around 1,000 of them remain in custody.

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