Venezuela opposition leaders taken from homes, family says

CARACAS, Venezuela — Leading Venezuelan opposition figures Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma have been taken from their homes, according to their families.

Their rounding up comes after Sunday’s controversial election handed President Nicolás Maduro a new legislative body made up entirely of his supporters.

The vote triggered massive outcry from the international community, prompting new sanctions, as well as those inside the country who have called it a sham.

Maduro’s declaration of victory evoked fears that it erases any last traces of democracy in Venezuela. It paves the way to replace the current legislative body, the National Assembly, with a new, 545-member Constituent Assembly, made up entirely of his supporters.

The pro-Maduro assembly will have the power to rewrite Venezuela’s Constitution. It will establish a “truth commission” to prosecute political opponents, said one of his top officials.

Who are Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma?

Shortly after the controversial vote, Lopez and Ledezma were taken from their homes, according to their families.

“They just took Leopoldo from the house. We do not know where he is or where he is being taken. Maduro is responsible if something happens to him,” Lopez’s wife, Lilian Tintori, tweeted early Tuesday.

Lopez, a descendent of South American liberator Simon Bólívar and Venezuela’s first president, Cristóbal Mendoza, was released from military prison to house arrest in July.

He was taken from his home shortly after midnight, his wife said on social media. Tintori posted video that she says shows her husband being taken away.

It’s not confirmed who took him or where he was taken, but the video posted by Tintori shows Lopez being driven away in a car marked “SEBIN,” an abbreviation for the Venezuelan intelligence service.

Two weeks ago, in a 15-minute video posted online, he called for Venezuelans to keep up protests. At the time, he called Maduro and his supporters a “very clear threat,” saying their goal is to undermine democracy and achieve the “absolute submission of the Venezuelan people.”

Lopez has long been a vocal opponent of the socialists in power and was banned in 2008 from running for office on accusations of corruption. He described the banning as political retribution.

An international human rights court cleared him in 2011, but the Venezuelan Supreme Court upheld the ban.

In February 2014, at least three people were killed during an anti-government protest in the capital, and authorities blamed Lopez for the violence. His detention, which began in early 2014 over accusations of inciting anti-government protests, had been a rallying cry for anti-regime demonstrators.

Lopez turned himself in, and was sentenced in 2015 to nearly 14 years in prison. He had been under house arrest since early July.

Ledezma, the former mayor of Caracas and a prominent opposition figure, was also taken from his home by SEBIN, according to tweets from his wife and children.

“He was taken from his home today, early this morning,” his daughter, Oriette Ledezma, said in a video statement.

“He was in pajamas. We don’t know where he was taken. A group of men came with their faces concealed and in camouflage and they took him. They have kidnapped him once again. We hold the regime responsible for his life and physical integrity.”

Ledezma, known throughout Venezuela for his vocal opposition, was elected Caracas mayor in 2008. The next year, he staged a hunger strike to protest the political tactics of then-President Hugo Chavez, the socialist populist who died in 2012 and who handpicked Maduro as his successor.

CNN has reached out to the Ministry of Communications for comment.

Attorney general: ‘End of freedom of expression’

Young Venezuelans have taken to the streets to protest the vote, known locally as “la constituyente,” or the constituent — leading to violent clashes.

Venezuela’s attorney general lambasted the election.

“This is the end of freedom of expression, and this freedom has been battered for some time now,” said Attorney General Luisa Ortega.

On Sunday, the death toll rose sharply with at least 10 people — including two teenagers — killed at protests. A National Guard officer was also reported dead by the attorney general’s office. So far, 125 people have been killed in the ongoing unrest since early April.

Sanctions

The US Treasury Department slapped sanctions on Maduro following the vote, sending a clear signal of President Donald Trump’s administration’s opposition to his regime.

Beginning on Monday, all of the Venezuelan’s president’s assets that are subject to US jurisdiction will be frozen. All US citizens are also barred from dealing with him, according to the Treasury.