US State Department spokesman Ned Price called for a fair hearing for Matthew Heath, who was detained in September.
A Venezuelan criminal court in a Wednesday hearing ordered that a trial begin for Matthew Heath, a US citizen detained in the South American country on terrorism charges and accused of being a US spy, Heath’s lawyer said on Thursday.
Heath, 39, was detained in September 2020 in northwestern Venezuela and charged with terrorism and arms trafficking. His defence lawyer, Guillermo Heredia, said he rejected the “false” charges in the Wednesday hearing, which lasted until midnight.
U.S. citizen Matthew Heath has been held in Venezuela since last year. We call on Venezuelan authorities to ensure that he receives a transparent, fair, and public hearing that respects all fair trial guarantees.
— Ned Price (@StateDeptSpox) February 22, 2021
President Nicolas Maduro at the time of Heath’s arrest said he was spying on the OPEC nation’s oil refineries, and that he had been carrying “specialised weapons”. US officials at the time said Heath was not sent to Venezuela by Washington.
No further court date had been set, Heredia said, adding that Heath was being held in the headquarters of Venezuela’s military counterintelligence directorate, known as DGCIM.
Heath was arrested along with National Guard Sergeant Major Darwin Urdaneta, Marcos Garces and Daeven Rodriguez, the driver of the vehicle. The three Venezuelans were charged with treason, terrorism, arms trafficking and conspiracy.
Ned Price, spokesperson for the State Department, blasted Maduro on Thursday saying that human rights abuses have continued to escalate under the leader’s regime and that the leader and his allies have used violence in order to maintain control over the country.
“We believe that Maduro is a dictator,” Price said during a news briefing, “Maduro is corrupt, that Maduro is responsible for the suffering of his people.”
Venezuela is mired in a deep political, social and economic crisis attributed to plummeting oil prices and two decades of mismanagement under Maduro’s administration. The oil-rich country has been in recession for years, and millions live in poverty amid high food prices, low wages and four-digit inflation.