Venezuela: prominent journalist taken by intelligence service

Tom Phillips Latin America correspondent and Patricia Torres in Caracas

A prominent Venezuelan journalist who had been reporting on the country’s escalating political crisis and electricity blackout out has been seized by secret police, sparking international condemnation.

Related: US pulls all staff from Venezuela as Maduro blames blackout on 'demonic' Trump plot

Luis Carlos Díaz went missing at about 5.30pm on Monday after leaving the radio station where he worked in the capital, Caracas.

A social media hunt ensued with Twitter users demanding #DóndeEstáLuisCarlos or #WhereIsLuisCarlos.

Fellow journalists confirmed Díaz had been taken by members of Venezuela’s intelligence service, Sebin.

He was charged with inciting violence and released late on Tuesday. A judge ordered him not to leave the country and prohibited him from making public statements.

Venezuela’s National Press Workers Union said agents raided Díaz’s home shortly before dawn, seizing computers and pen drives as the handcuffed journalist looked on.

Díaz was reportedly held in the notorious El Helicoide political prison.

Luz Mely Reyes, an internationally acclaimed Venezuelan journalist, told the Guardian her colleague’s detention was part of an escalating war on the press being waged by the country’s embattled leader, Nicolás Maduro.

Maduro is fighting for his political life after an audacious challenge from a young opposition leader called Juan Guaidó, who most western governments now recognize as Venezuela’s rightful interim president.

“I think one of the things [Maduro] is trying to achieve is to intimidate [journalists] and ensure the stories about what is going on in Venezuela are not told,” Reyes said. “Repression against the press has been growing.”

Last week, one day before much of Venezuela was paralyzed by a massive power cut, an American freelance journalist who had worked for the Daily Telegraph was deported after being seized at his home in Caracas.

A rightwing German journalist, Billy Six, has reportedly been held in El Helicoide since being detained on suspicion of espionage last year.

“It is just a joke,” his father, Edward Six, told the Guardian in a recent interview. “Journalism is not a crime.”

Related: 'We call it survival': Venezuelans improvise solutions as blackout continues

Díaz’s detention – which authorities have yet to explain – triggered condemnation in and outside of Venezuela, with Guaidó denouncing Maduro’s “persecution” of journalists.

The UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet tweeted that she was “deeply worried” by the detention of Díaz, adding that UN officials in Caracas had urgently requested access to him.

During a brief conversation in the early hours of Tuesday, Díaz reportedly told Naky Soto, his journalist wife, he had been detained near the Korean embassy in Caracas while riding his bicycle home. Agents said he was suspected of “IT offenses”.

Last Friday, Maduro’s second-in-command, Diosdado Cabello, published a conspiratorial video on Twitter insinuating Díaz was part of a “rancid” rightwing US-backed plot to destroy Venezuela’s electricity network.

Reyes said she feared Díaz’s detention would not be the last, as the political situation in Venezuela deteriorated. “This is not a game – this is a very serious situation that puts us on alert.”