Venezuelan Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni, who was arrested more than two years ago on charges of judicial misconduct, was taken Tuesday to a private hospital for surgery, her attorney told Efe.

"She is hospitalized at Clinicas Caracas, where she must undergo preoperative exams for the operation tomorrow (Wednesday)," Jose Amalio Graterol said.

Graterol said that Afiuni, whose case has prompted harsh criticism of the government of Hugo Chavez from human rights groups, will be operated on to correct a problem of "urinary incontinence" by repairing a bladder and rectal prolapse and will have to remain hospitalized "until Saturday or Sunday."

The lawyer said that it had been an 18-month battle to get permission for the judge, who has been under house arrest since February 2011, to go to "her trusted hospital and meet with her trusted doctor."

"Really, we think it's a gesture of goodwill by the judge," said Graterol, although he added that the fact that she was allowed to enter the hospital just six weeks before Venezuela's presidential election can also be read another way by the defense.

"It could be a way to gain time to avoid starting the trial before the election," said the attorney.

Graterol also said that perhaps the presiding judge in the case, Marilda Rios, "doesn't dare to hold the trial."

Afiuni was initially arrested in late 2009 and accused of facilitating the flight abroad of businessman and government critic Eligio Cedeño, who had been under arrest for three years without trial on accusations of engaging in illegal currency exchange operations.

Chavez said in a televised address that Cedeño's release was planned by the businessman's lawyers, the judge, court secretaries and bailiffs by summoning him to a hearing without the presence of the prosecutor and he called for the "maximum penalty" for Afiuni.

On July 17, Human Rights Watch said in a report that the Afiuni case is "the most alarming example of the lack of judicial independence in Venezuela."

Other international human rights entities, among them Amnesty International, have asked Venezuelan authorities to release Afiuni claiming that there is "undue political interference" in the case on the part of the Chavez administration. EFE