Court says two Venezuela op­po­si­tion lead­ers sent back to prison

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD -

Two of Venezuela’s lead­ing op­po­si­tion fig­ures were seized at their homes by state se­cu­rity agents early Tues­day in the first moves by Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s gov­ern­ment against prom­i­nent en­e­mies since a widely de­nounced vote grant­ing the rul­ing party nearly unlimited pow­ers.

The Venezue­lan Supreme Court said Leopoldo Lopez and An­to­nio Ledezma had vi­o­lated the terms of their house ar­rest by crit­i­ciz­ing the gov­ern­ment in mes­sages re­leased on so­cial me­dia in re­cent days.

The court, which is con­trolled by Maduro al­lies, also said it had re­ceived “re­ports from of­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence sources’’ that the two men had been plan­ning to flee.

Rel­a­tives and al­lies of Lopez and for­mer Cara­cas Mayor Ledezma ear­lier re­ported on so­cial me­dia that both had been de­tained. Lopez’s wife posted what ap­peared to be video of him being taken from their home after mid­night.

“They’ve just taken Leopoldo from the house,’’ Lil­ian Tin­tori tweeted. “We don’t know where he is or where they’re tak­ing him.’’

Al­lies of Ledezma posted video of a man who ap­peared to be the op­po­si­tion leader being taken by state se­cu­rity as a woman screams for help.

“They’re tak­ing Ledezma!’’ she cries. “It’s a dic­ta­tor­ship!’’

At­tor­ney Juan Car­los Gutierrez said the gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to re­turn Lopez to prison was “com­pletely ar­bi­trary’’ and said Lopez had obeyed the con­di­tions im­posed on his house ar­rest and had never had plans to flee.

Lopez had been re­leased from the Ramo Verde mil­i­tary prison July 8 after serv­ing three years of a 13-year sen­tence for in­cit­ing vi­o­lence at op­po­si­tion ral­lies. Many hu­man rights groups con­sid­ered him a po­lit­i­cal pris­oner.

Ledezma was also de­tained in 2015 and has been un­der house ar­rest. Both lead­ers re­cently posted videos online de­nounc­ing Maduro’s de­ci­sion to hold a vote for a con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly with the power to over­haul Venezuela’s po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.

The United States said it holds Maduro “per­son­ally responsible’’ for the health and safety of the two.

They were being “un­justly’’ held by the Venezue­lan gov­ern­ment after its “out­ra­geous seizure of power through a sham elec­tion’’ over the week­end, said White House spokes­woman Sarah Huck­abee San­ders.

Maduro said Mon­day evening he had no in­ten­tion of de­vi­at­ing from his plans to re­write the con­sti­tu­tion and go after a string of en­e­mies, from in­de­pen­dent Venezue­lan news chan­nels to gun­men he claimed were sent by neigh­bour­ing Colom­bia to dis­rupt the vote as part of an in­ter­na­tional con­spir­acy led by the man he calls “Em­peror Don­ald Trump.’’

“They don’t in­tim­i­date me. The threats and sanc­tions of the em­pire don’t in­tim­i­date me for a mo­ment,’’ Maduro said on na­tional TV. “I don’t lis­ten to or­ders from the em­pire, not now or ever ... Bring on more sanc­tions, Don­ald Trump.’’

AP PHOTO

Anti-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tors hold can­dles dur­ing a vigil in honor of those who have been killed dur­ing clashes be­tween se­cu­rity forces and demon­stra­tors in Cara­cas, Venezuela, Mon­day, July 31. Many an­a­lysts be­lieve Sun­day’s vote for a newly elected as­sem­bly that will re­write Venezuela’s con­sti­tu­tion will cat­alyze yet more dis­tur­bances in a coun­try that has seen four months of street protests in which at least 125 peo­ple have died.

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