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>> 44 opponents of Venezuela's socialist government have so far been released from jail and reunited with loved ones, part of a wider release timed with the Christmas holiday. But a human rights group says nearly 200 others remain in prison for crimes ranging from violence to subversion during protest in 2014 and 2017.
The local penal forum group calling them pawns of a dictatorship that unjustly punishes protest and dissent. President Nicolás Maduro's administration has said it is freeing about 80 jailed activists in all, and giving them alternative punishments, such as community service. But Maduro's government is being criticized for manipulating their cases for political gain.
The release is coming just days before Venezuela's government and opposition were set to resume mediation talks. Canada also criticizing Maduro's regime with foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, saying it has consistently undermined all efforts to restore democracy and to help the Venezuelan people. Freeland said on Monday that Canada will expel a top Venezuelan diplomat and bar the country's ambassador from returning to Ottawa.