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Venezuela to charge two opposition activists deported from Colombia last week

Venezuela on Monday said two activists who were deported from Colombia last week would be facing charges for failing to register with authorities every 21 days.

In a statement, Venezuela’s Public Prosecutor said Lorent Saleh and Gabriel Valles, who were deported from Colombia on Thursday and Friday, had violated the terms of a settlement they reached in 2010 when they were detained for participating in “violent protests” in the city of Valencia, the capital of Carabobo state.

Venezuela’s public prosecutor said both men had outstanding arrest warrants for failing to check in with authorities.

Saleh is a well-known student activist and the president of the Operación Libertad civil-rights group. He had been living and studying in Colombia since February but was deported on Thursday after Colombian authorities said he had been involved in political work that violated the terms of his visa. Valles, who was deported the following day, is also a member of the organization.

Until Monday’s announcement, Operación Libertad said it did not know the whereabouts of the two men.

Saleh and Valle’s ouster raised fears that they might not receive fair treatment or a fair trial. Saleh claims to have been beaten by Venezuelan authorities in the past.

About a dozen people gathered outside Colombia’s Immigration building on Monday to accuse Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos of betraying Venezuela’s opposition.

“We’re here to apologize to Venezuela,” said Congresswoman María Fernanda Cabal, with the opposition Centro Democratico Party. “The government of Juan Manuel Santos has turned its back on this country’s democratic traditions.”

Amid a tanking economy and rampant crime, many Venezuelans have come to Colombia looking for opportunities. But during the early stages of Monday’s rally, none were to be found.

“They don’t want to show their faces because they’re worried the same thing that happened to Lorent [Saleh] might happen to them,” said Andrés Felipe Díaz, a 32-year-old lawyer, who said he came to the event because he found the expulsion “troubling.”

Colombia’s Immigration said that Saleh and Valles were deported last week because they had violated the terms of their visas and that Saleh had an outstanding arrest warrant in Venezuela.

Venezuela’s opposition Un Nuevo Tiempo political party said it didn’t agree with Lorent’s strident anti-government position, but it was concerned that he was handed over even though Venezuela had never asked for his extradition.

“The expulsion of a foreigner from Colombia territory can be legitimate,” the party said in a statement. “But in the case of Lorent Saleh it’s absolutely reproachable.”

Venezuelan media reported that a large group of supporters had gathered around the courthouse in Valencia where Saleh and Valles were to face authorities.

On her Twitter account, Saleh’s mother, Yamile Saleh Rojas, said she had talked to her son Monday afternoon and that he had not been mistreated.

“Lord, I ask you to free Lorent Saleh,” she wrote.

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