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Venezuelan opposition leaders jailed due to flight risk, says court

© Evaristo Sa, Leopoldo Lopez, AFP | Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez (L) giving a message from his house in Caracas; October 27, 2009. File photo of Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma (R) speaking in Brasilia.

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-08-02

Two Venezuelan opposition leaders who were sent back to jail from house arrest were detained because of their political statements and because they planned to flee, the Supreme Court said Tuesday.

The court said in a statement that Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma – who were taken from their homes at dawn, causing an international outcry – had been planning to escape.

"Information was received from official intelligence sources revealing that said citizens had a plan to flee, which is why the corresponding procedures were urgently activated," it said.

The court – which critics say is a mouthpiece for socialist President Nicolas Maduro – did not specify whether their alleged plan was to go into hiding in Venezuela or to flee abroad.

The court also said the men had violated the terms of their house arrest by engaging in political activities.

"The conditions imposed on Lopez did not permit him to engage in any type of political campaigning, because his sentence included a ban from politics for the duration of his (14-year) punishment," it said.

Ledezma, for his part, had the "obligation to abstain from making statements to the media", it said.

The men are two of Venezuela's most high-profile opposition leaders.

Maduro’s most radical adversaries

Deemed political prisoners by human rights groups, both had called for a boycott of Sunday's vote for an all-powerful "constituent assembly" tasked with rewriting the constitution.

Lopez, a Harvard-educated opposition leader, is one of Maduro's most radical adversaries.

Arrested in 2014 on charges of inciting violence at anti-government protests that left 43 people dead, he was released to house arrest last month.

Ledezma, the mayor of Caracas, had been under house arrest since 2015.

The news of their disappearance broke early Tuesday when Lopez’s wife Lilian Tintori tweeted a posting that read, “12:27 in the morning: the moment when the dictatorship kidnaps Leopoldo at my house”.

She included a link to a video of what appears to be Lopez being led into a vehicle emblazoned with the word Sebin, Venezuela’s intelligence agency.

US, UN condemns jailings

The jailing of the two opposition figures sparked international condemnation with the US expressing “deep concern” for the two men while denouncing Maduro’s “authoritarianism”.

A senior US diplomat for the Americas, Acting Assistant Secretary Antonio Francisco Palmieri, tweeted that this was "another step in the wrong direction for Venezuela".

"This action is further evidence of the Maduro regime's authoritarianism," he added, speaking one day after senior US officials declared for the first time that they now regard Maduro as a dictator.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert also condemned the detentions, saying in a tweet that the United States is "deeply concerned".

On Monday, the US Treasury slapped sanctions on Maduro, and National Security Adviser HR McMaster compared him to notorious strongmen Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and North Korea's Kim Jong-Un.

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on Tuesday also released a statement calling the release of the two jailed opposition leaders.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

Date created : 2017-08-01

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