Latacunga Judge Paola Bedón ordered the immediate release of indigenous strike leader Leonidas Iza Tuesday night but said that the charges against him of paralyzing public transportation are legitimate. Under terms of the release, Iza must remain in the country and report to the court on Wednesdays and Fridays until his case is resolved.
Iza, who is president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie), was arrested Tuesday morning in Cotopaxi Province. He was first held at the Attorney General’s headquarters in Quito before being transferred to a holding cell at the Cotopaxi prison near Latacunga.
Bedón set a date of July 4 for a preliminary hearing in the case to be heard by the Cotopaxi provincial court.
A large crowd gathered at the prison Tuesday afternoon, tearing down fences and vandalizing cars and prison property, before being subdued by police tear gas. During the clashes, five policemen were detained by protesters and taken to a nearby community. Several protesters were injured by tear gas canisters.
Lawyers for Iza claim police failed to read the charges against him at the time of his arrest but prosecutors dispute the claim, saying charges were presented in both Spanish and Quechua, Iza’s native language, when he was placed in the police car.
During Tuesday night’s hearing, Conaie lawyer Carlos Poveda also claimed that there is no evidence that Iza obstructed traffic. Prosecutor Marisela Yánez countered with photographs of Iza at two roadblocks and said she could produce audio tapes of Iza urging his followers to block highways. “We can produce the definitive proof that the law was broken under article 346 of the Comprehensive Criminal Code,” she said. She added that the law is based on the constitutional right of freedom of movement.
In addition to the confrontation outside the Cotopaxi prison, violence was reported in several other locations on Tuesday, including Quito, where a police cruiser was destroyed and property damage was reported. Police say several hundred protesters caused a “riot” in the El Ejido park district, where tear gas was used to disperse the crowd.
Other violent incidents occurred Tuesday in Ibarra and Ambato, where crowds caused property damage and threatened businesses with looting if they refused to close.
No violence was reported in Cuenca and all streets in the city remain open, the mayor’s office says. A roadblock was erected Tuesday afternoon on the Cajas highway in Sayausi, west of Cuenca, but was cleared two hours later by police. A late afternoon protest in Parque Calderon was peaceful.