Detained Venezuelan violinist, symbol of protests, released

Detained Venezuelan violinist, symbol of protests, released

Caracas (AFP) - A young Venezuelan violinist who became a beloved fixture at anti-government protests has been released after spending 19 days in police custody.

Wuilly Arteaga, 23, was freed overnight Tuesday, attorney general Tarek William Saab said on Twitter.

His release was confirmed by Alfredo Romero, head of a human rights group called Foro Penal.

The deputy speaker of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Freddy Guevara, celebrated Arteaga's release.

"May his music once again fill the people of Venezuela with hope," Guevara wrote on Twitter.

Arteaga 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 President Nicolas 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 in late July 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.

The assembly was elected on July 30 to widespread criticism at home and abroad.

Arteaga was charged with instigating violence and carrying an incendiary device.

Romero denied the charge, and said that the violinist was beaten and tortured during his detention.

"They beat him brutally, even with his own violin," Romero. "He can no longer hear out of his right ear."

Nearly 130 people have died in often violent anti-Maduro streets protests since April 1.

During one of the protests Arteaga said he was struck with buckshot, and was seen with blood pouring from cuts on his face.

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