The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is situated on the northern coast of South America. Home to an estimated population of 29.1 million, it covers around 916,445 square kilometres which includes the Andes mountains and the Amazon Basin Rainforest. Its main export is oil. Venezuela was colonized by Spain in 1522 but continued resistance led in 1811 to it becoming the first Spanish American country to declare independence. A chequered political history followed which saw dictatorships rise and fall, as well as military coups. The current president is founder of the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200, Hugo Chávez.
Magistrate Maria Lourdes Afiuni who cross Venezuela's Hugo Chavez freed
Associated Press in Caracas
Venezuelan authorities freed a judge who was arrested in 2009 after then-president Hugo Chavez objected to one of her rulings. Her case became a cause célèbre for the opposition and international human rights groups.
A Caracas judge on Friday released Maria Lourdes Afiuni from house arrest so she can seek treatment for health problems, said Thelma Fernandez, an attorney for the 50-year-old magistrate widely considered Venezuela's top political prisoner.
The ruling does not erase the charges of corruption, abuse of authority and aiding an inmate's escape for which Chavez ordered her jailed. There was no immediate government comment.
Afiuni crossed Chavez by freeing a banker accused of violating currency controls while he awaited trial. He fled the country and sought asylum in the US.
Chavez, who died of cancer on March 5, was livid. "A judge who frees a criminal is much, much, much more serious than the criminal himself," he said in a televised speech. "This judge should get the maximum penalty, and whoever does this - 30 years in prison. That judge has to pay for what she has done."
Critics said the Afiuni case exemplified how Chavez had come to control the judiciary after increasing the size of courts and stocking them with friendly magistrates.