The lawyer for one of Venezuela’s most prominent opposition leaders, who was dragged in his pajamas from his home on Tuesday in a police raid, says that the Maduro administration has refused to tell him where his client is or allow him to speak with him.
Antonio Ledezma, the former mayor of a Caracas district, was first arrested in 2015 when President Nicolas Maduro accused him of scheming – with the knowledge of the United States -- to overthrow his government. He later was placed under house arrest pending his trial.
Omar Estacio, Ledezma’s attorney, told Fox News in an interview from Caracas that the former mayor has been cut off from his family and his lawyers. His family and lawyer say the government’s arrest and detention of Ledezma with no information about his whereabouts amounts to nothing less than “a kidnapping.”
“We have not been able to speak with him,” Estacio said. “We’re not even really sure about where he is. This is a coerced disappearance.”
Ledezma is legendary in Venezuela for his vocal and persistent condemnation of the Maduro administration, calling it oppressive and corrupt. The arrest of Ledezma, and another opposition leader and former mayor, Leopoldo Lopez Jr., came shortly after an election on Sunday to choose members of a constituent assembly that will implement Maduro’s controversial mandate to rewrite the Constitution.
Estacio said authorities were conjuring up fabrications to justify the arrest of his client in 2015 and again earlier this week. He said they had characterized Ledezma as a flight risk, and accused him of violating terms for his arrest that called for him not to make public comments about the government.
“In no way was it a part of the process for his house arrest an agreement that he not exercise his constitutional right to make public statements,” Estacio said.
Ledezma, nonetheless, was less vocal -- for a while , at least, during his house arrest -- in his denunciations than he typically had been, Estacio said. He noted that it was due to “personal reasons, the advice of his lawyers that it might be more prudent.”
After the election, which occurred under widespread doubt among many Venezuelans and experts abroad about its legitimacy, many accused the Maduro government of manipulating the results and turnout estimates. The Constitution and new assembly basically dissolve the opportunity for political opponents to hold office and punishes disloyalty.
Both Lopez and Ledezma publicly denounced the election and what they said was the continuing deterioration of democracy in Venezuela. Sensing he would be detained and returned to jail, Lopez pre-recorded a video in anticipation of being arrested and urged Venezuelans to keep fighting for their country.
Ledezma also recorded a video, saying the country was in the grip of a “tyranny,” and taking his fellow Maduro opponents to task for not mounting a more vigorous fight.
In the video, which was posted online Monday, Ledezma denounced the election as “fraud, plain and simple."
"We know that our public institutions have become instruments of a totalitarian regime, of a tyranny, which decided to continue damaging and destroying our rights," Ledezma said.