Since May 2016, the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional, SEBIN) and National Guard have detained 21 people on allegations that they were planning, fomenting, or had participated in violent anti-government actions. Most allege they have been tortured or otherwise abused in custody. In several cases, prosecutors failed to present any credible evidence linking the accused to crimes, but courts charged them anyway. In some cases, the evidence included mere possession of political materials, including pamphlets calling for the release of political prisoners.

All but two of the 21 people detained have been charged with criminal offenses, and nine remain in detention.

Human Rights Watch conducted in-country research in June 2016, and interviewed family members and lawyers as well as one of the people detained, and reviewed key documents in judicial files in several cases, including police records and the direct testimony of 11 detainees, as well as statements by government officials. The 21 cases were from Caracas and Bolivar, Cojedes, and Zulia states.