Venezuelan protester Rodolfo Gonzalez dies in custody

image copyrightEl Nacional
image captionRodolfo Gonzalez was an active opponent of the government of President Nicolas Maduro

A Venezuelan opposition activist arrested during last year's anti-government rallies has died in custody.

Rodolfo Gonzalez, aged 63, hanged himself in his cell at the headquarters of the country's secret service in Caracas, his lawyer told the BBC.

He said this happened after Mr Gonzalez had learned he would be transferred to one of Venezuela's notoriously dangerous common prisons.

The government has appointed a prosecutor to investigate the death.

"Rodolfo was in a serious physical condition and didn't feel right about going to a prison such as that," lawyer Jose Vicente Haro told BBC Mundo correspondent Daniel Pardo.

Mr Gonzalez's daughter also confirmed the death of her father.

'No transfer plans'

Interior Minister Gustavo Gonzalez said there were signs that the opposition activist killed himself.

But he denied that the authorities were planning to move him from the facilities where he was being held in Caracas.

"We never considered any plan to transfer him to another detention centre in the country as part of the media have been saying," the minister said.

image copyrightAP
image captionJosefa Alvarez de Gonzalez (centre) is consoled by relatives of her husband outside a morgue in Caracas

Rodolfo Gonzalez, a former civil aviation captain, was an active opponent of the government of President Nicolas Maduro, taking part in mass demonstrations that rocked Venezuela in February-March 2014.

Dozens of people on both sides of the political divide were killed during the unrest.

Human rights groups criticised the Maduro government for what they described as its tough approach in dealing with the rallies.

This also prompted the United States to impose sanctions.

At least 40 people arrested during the protests remain in jail.

Among them is opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who gave himself up to the authorities in February last year after being charged with inciting violence.

The government says right-wing sectors in Venezuela and abroad encouraged young people to engage in violent acts in order to oust President Maduro.

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