- Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma said to have violated house arrest terms
- UN human rights chief ‘deeply concerned’ two men were taken into custody
The rearrest of two of Venezuela’s most prominent opposition leaders in midnight operations has prompted further condemnation of President Nicolás Maduro’s government – which was already accused of attempting to seize absolute power in the crisis-hit country.
Security officials led the raids early on Tuesday, after a court ruled that Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma had violated the terms of their house arrests by calling on Venezuelans to protest against the weekend vote to elect a new body to rewrite the constitution.
The vote for the constituent assembly was boycotted by the opposition, and has been denounced around the world as an attack on democracy.
López was sentenced to 14 years in prison for his role in leading street protests against Maduro in 2014. Ledezma is accused of plotting a coup. Human rights defenders have said in both cases the charges have been trumped up.
According to a statement from the pro-government supreme court, the two also had plans to flee.
The UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said he was “deeply concerned” that the two men had been taken into custody. “I urge the authorities not to make an already extremely volatile situation even worse through the use of excessive force, including through violent house raids by security forces that have occurred in various parts of the country.”
The US state department said the detentions were further evidence that Maduro “is not willing to respect fundamental human rights”.
José Miguel Vivanco, America’s director at Human Rights Watch, said the rearrests “expose the true nature of the dictatorship (Maduro) is imposing on Venezuelans.
“Maduro may lock up two prominent political prisoners, but he cannot silence the millions of Venezuelans who oppose his government, nor key democratic leaders abroad who know that these detentions are desperate moves to cling to power at the expense of Venezuela’s democracy and the rights of its people.”
Lopez’s wife, Lilian Tintori, posted a video of the moment of her husband’s arrest on Twitter. “12:27 in the morning: the moment when the…