Court says two Venezuela opposition leaders sent back to prison
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.’’
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.