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Wednesday, 19 April 2017 | MYT 4:17 AM

Detained opposition activists say Venezuela authorities tortured them

CARACAS (Reuters) - A Venezuelan court has ordered the continued detention of two young opposition activists who say they were tortured until they incriminated opposition leaders in a plot to destabilise the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

Twin brothers Francisco Jose Sanchez and Francisco Alejandro Sanchez, age 22, were detained on Thursday by Venezuela's intelligence services amid a wave of anti-government unrest.

During a broadcast on state television last week, Maduro showed pixelated videos of one of the brothers suggesting that the two young men were ordered by four opposition lawmakers from the Justice First party to wreak havoc across the city.

The men's lawyers confirmed that they were in fact the people in the videos but said the confessions were obtained by coercion.

"Francisco Alejandro spent three days handcuffed to a pipe," lawyer Joel Garcia told Reuters, adding that he was made to stand for three days.

"He received psychological torture. They put his arms on his head, said that they would kill him, his family, that they would rape his girlfriend, kill his brother."

The pair are accused of inciting violence, allegedly having been caught throwing rocks at the intelligence officials, though their defence and family say they were not protesting when arrested.

They also note that prosecutors did not use the video evidence against them, insisting their detention is a political witch hunt.

Venezuela is undergoing a major wave of protests, much like those seen in 2014, amid a social and economic crisis in which millions struggle with food shortages.

Rocks and petrol bombs from protesters are being met with rubber bullets and tear gas by authorities across the country.

The "mother of all protests" is planned by the opposition for Wednesday. The government has confirmed its own counter-demonstration.

State ombudsman Tarek William Saab, the official in charge of human rights, said at the weekend that the siblings had received medical assistance.

Saab's office said he would not comment on the case while investigations were taking place.

The brothers' Justice First party is led by two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who was recently disqualified from holding public office in Venezuela for 15 years.

Venezuela's government has been denounced to the International Criminal Court at The Hague for systematically committing torture over the last 15 years. Lawyer and activist Tamara Suju who led the complaint said the twins' case had been added to it.

(Writing by Girish Gupta.; Editing by Brian Ellsworth and Leslie Adler)

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