He was the man who saved Hugo Chávez when all seemed lost. A coup had ousted Venezuela's president and buried, it seemed, his leftist experiment. General Raúl Baduel, however, stayed loyal and tilted the army Chávez's way during tumultuous days in April 2002, paving the way for his triumphant return to power and restoring democracy. A grateful Chávez hailed the general a hero and appointed him defence minister. They became close allies and confidants. Times change. Baduel is now stripped of power and facing corruption charges that could keep him in jail for decades. Prosecutors say he pilfered state funds. Baduel says his crime was to realise -- and declare -- that the president was a tyrant. "Every day there is more repression, and Chávez's mask slips further. The only thing Chávez cares about is being president for life," he said, seated at a desk in his cell. "This," he said, tapping a pile of legal documents emblazoned with his name, "is a judicial farce". Since April the general has been kept behind three layers of guards and gates at a hilltop military jail in Los Teques, outside Caracas. He has been accused of corruption over $12-million which allegedly disappeared during his tenure in government, a charge levelled after he broke with Chávez and joined opposition ranks. Baduel is not alone. Criminal charges are multiplying against government opponents. Some are accused of corruption, others of public disorder during demonstrations. Some are in exile, others in jail pending trial. Critics say the president has become authoritarian and is using courts to neutralise foes. "Given the way Chávez and his supporters have undermined the independence of the judiciary it is difficult to have confidence in the fairness of the trials," said Daniel Wilkinson, of Human Rights Watch. A tougher approach is already on display. Police, citing disorder, use teargas to break up demonstrations and jail organisers. Twelve municipal workers were arrested during a protest over working conditions. In the western state of Táchira an opposition governor, César Pérez Vivas, was charged after leading a rally that ended in scuffles with government supporters.