NEW YORK — The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) strongly condemns today’s arrests of Venezuelan opposition leaders Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma.
Both leaders were previously under house arrest; López was returned home on July 8. Shortly after midnight, heavily-armed agents from the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) raided López’s and Ledezma’s homes, dragged them into the street while still in their pajamas, and forced them into vehicles belonging to the intelligence service. Their seizures come after violent clashes between the National Guard and protesters on Sunday, which left at least 16 people dead. The demonstrators were protesting the Maduro regime’s appointment of an illegitimate Constituent Assembly expected to help him perpetuate Chavismo’s authoritarian rule.
“Today, democrats around the world are mourning for Venezuela. With López’s and Ledezma’s imprisonment and the brutally repressive tactics that police, armed forces, and paramilitary groups are using against demonstrators, Venezuela is on the brink of institutional collapse,” said HRF Chairman Garry Kasparov. “Maduro and his cronies must understand that they will not be able to simply eliminate all of the opposition and the demonstrators at gunpoint. Maduro should release López and Ledezma immediately and, for the sake of Venezuela, his regime must soon come to an end. Venezuela does not need an executioner; it needs a peaceful transition to democracy,” said Kasparov.
In a phone conversation with HRF, Antonietta Ledezma, daughter of Antonio Ledezma, declared, “we are not certain of my father’s whereabouts, but we believe he was taken to Ramo Verde military prison along with Leopoldo. We are very worried, we know he was beaten by the political police on his way there.”
During the last few weeks, discontent with the regime has intensified. Since April 4, approximately 125 people have been killed by police and paramilitary groups, known as “colectivos revolucionarios,” using firearms. Since 2014, the number of prisoners of conscience in the country has reached almost 140, and there have been at least 6,893 arbitrary detentions and counting.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.