CARACAS, Venezuela — Masked security forces staged middle-of-night raids early Tuesday to haul away two leading Venezuelan opposition leaders already under house arrest, possibly signaling an expanded crackdown on dissent after widely denounced elections aimed at boosting the authoritarian government.
The moves against Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma could intensify the international fallout after Sunday’s election, which created a new super congress stocked with backers of the government of President Nicolás Maduro.
The vote was decried as fraudulent by the opposition and prompted the Trump administration on Monday to slap sanctions on Maduro. In a video posted online by Ledezma’s wife, security forces are shown apparently dragging the opposition leader through the glass doors of a building.
“They’re taking Ledezma!” a voice shouts in the background. A woman screams: “Dictatorship! Dictatorship!”
Both men were taken to Ramo Verde military prison southwest of Caracas, aides and family members said.
After the election results were announced Sunday, Maduro gave a bellicose victory speech on national television that included threats to jail political leaders who were encouraging protests. Maduro also said a “truth commission” would be created to “take parliamentary immunity from the legislators who shouldn’t have it.”
In a statement, the government-controlled supreme court said it revoked their house arrest after “verifying” violations of the terms of detention. It said intelligence officials had uncovered alleged escape plots of both men. The court also said the conditions of the house arrest prohibited political activity or declarations.
Authorities only last month released López, 46, after nearly 3 ½ years behind bars and placed him under house arrest. At the time, the government called the decision a humanitarian gesture, citing his poor health, though supporters saw the move as an attempt to reduce international pressure.
In a video posted on Twitter by Lilian Tintori, López’s wife, masked security forces in riot gear can be seen in front of what appears to be the family’s house, leading a man through the door and putting him in an official car shortly after midnight.
“They just took Leopoldo from home,” Tintori tweeted. “We don’t know where he is or where they took him. Maduro is responsible if something happens.”
Venezuela’s most prominent political prisoner and former mayor of a district in Caracas, López was arrested in early 2014 and handed a 13-year jail term after being convicted of inciting violence during a street protest. He became a symbol of resistance for opponents of the government, his portrait printed in bright colors on the T-shirts and flags of protesters who chanted, “Free Leopoldo!”
At the time of his release, López, who was forbidden from speaking to the press, issued a statement saying he was ready to return to prison to “fight for freedom.”
Roland Carreño, a senior member of López’s party, confirmed on Twitter that López was taken to the Ramo Verde prison.
Also taken into government custody early Tuesday was Ledezma, former mayor of Caracas. His wife, Mitzy Capriles de Ledezma, posted a video on Twitter showing a melee as authorities entered their home and hustled him away.
“What’s happening, my friend?” a woman in pajamas asks a squad of masked, uniformed men in her house. The men appear to be from the government’s Bolivarian Intelligence Service.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Ledezma’s wife said her husband had posted a Twitter video on Monday, despite being underhouse arrest, and suggested that it may have been one reason he was hauled away.
In the video, Ledezma, 62, with a Venezuelan flag in the background, called the just-elected constituent assembly a fraud, criticized the armed forces and rejected the pro-government supreme court. He also critiqued the opposition for its lack of strategy.
López had also released a video on Twitter last week, encouraging people to keep fighting and to reject Sunday’s vote.
“One more time Nicolás Maduro shows off his dictator-like qualities,” said Capriles de Ledezma. She argued that the move smacked of desperation.,“The fact that Antonio is again in prison means Maduro knows he’s on his way out,” she said.
Early Tuesday, Ledezma’s daughter, Oriette Ledezma, issued a video statement saying her father was “kidnapped” by Maduro’s forces in a pre-dawn raid.
“He was in his pajamas,” she said. “We don’t know where they took him. A group of masked men in camouflage took him … We make the regime responsible for his life and physical integrity.”
She added, “This is for Venezuela and the rest of the world because they keep violating human rights.”
She said that Ledezma was also taken to the Ramo Verde prison.
“I can say his morale is intact,” Oriette Ledezma said. “But we don’t know about his physical state. We’re not scared. It’s more indignation.”
Ledezma was previously arrested in December 2015. Maduro at the time said he was part of a conspiracy to overthrow the government. In May of that year, he was remanded to house arrest after undergoing surgery for a hernia.
In 2013, Ledezma, from the Alianza Bravo Pueblo party, was reelected as mayor. In January 2017, Maduro created a higher executive post in the city, “chief of the greater state of Caracas,” and named a pro-government official to the job.
Rachelle Krygier contributed to this report.