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Jailed Venezuelan opposition police official released to house arrest

Ivan Simonovis released to house arrest due to health issues

Former police official Ivan Simonovis, with his wife, Bony Pertiez, and daughter after he was released from prison to house arrest due to health issues (Bony Pertiñez Twitter @bonysimonovis)

One of the most prominent Venezuelan jailed opposition, former police official Ivan Simonovis, who has been in jail for almost a decade, was released Saturday on house arrest due to his declining health.

Simonovis, 54, and two other senior police officers were sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2009 on charges related to the killing of demonstrators during protesting in 2002, when Simonovis was a commissioner of the Caracas Metropolitan police force, which was accused by government loyalists of supporting the coup.

The other two police officials were released from prison in 2011 for humanitarian reasons, and only Simonovis remained hospitalized in the military prison of Ramo Verde. The opposition has maintained that Simonovis was made a scapegoat and that he should be considered a political prisoner and has long demanded his release.

Simonovis's wife, family and supporters said in recent months that his health was in fast decline due to several illnesses, and they had called for him to be released on humanitarian grounds.

But, until this past weekend, president Nicolás Maduro had refused, saying that Simonovis was guilty of crimes against humanity.

Simonovis's lawyers are attempting to have him transferred to a hospital for treatment. The government has indicated that the former police officer must return to prison once his health improves.

Maduro accuses US media outlets of plotting against his government

Venezuela's president Nicolas Maduro accused the Atlanta-based broadcaster CNN en Español and the daily newspaper based in Miami, El Nuevo Herald, of spreading what he said were false rumors about a mysterious disease spreading in Venezuela and threatened legal action against the news outlets.

Maduro said he ordered a criminal investigation into the past week's media coverage of a possible outbreak of a tropical disease in the central city of Maracay, which the government has denied.

"They tried to generate alarm in Venezuela, psychological warfare, terrorism," Maduro said in a national address. "I've talked with the prosecutor so that our justice bodies act in the most firm and severe ways permitted by law."

The president added that since September 11, "began an international campaign by CNN en Español, which is a laboratory of lies and psychological warfare against the country and trash ... by a television channel funded by the paramilitary (former Colombian President Alvaro) Uribe, NTN24; by the Miami Herald or the so-called El Nuevo Herald, which is he newspaper in Miami that is repository of all those lies against Venezuela that poison important groups of Venezuelans in Florida."

The government maintains that there is no mysterious and deadly disease that may have killed ten people in several Venezuelan cities and officials have maintained that there is "no foreign virus" in the country and stressed that those killed in Maracay "Only two patients had both the chikungunya virus and had underlying diseases" that complicated the clinical picture.

Follow Helena on Twitter @helepoleo