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U.S. Citizen Held Hostage in Venezuela Loses 50 Pounds Due to Illness, Torture

The socialist government of Venezuela has been torturing U.S. citizen Joshua Holt in prison, forcing him to violate his Mormon faith and perform “calisthenics” naked in the hallways of the prison, according to Holt’s family.

The Holts say their son has lost 50 pounds in prison in Venezuela and been hospitalized for a variety of illnesses contracted in captivity, including numerous infections and pneumonia.

Speaking to the Idaho State Journal, Laurie Holt, Joshua’s mother, described her son as having “suffered tremendously… I know it is due to the lack of nutrition and perhaps dehydration.” Laurie Holt listed “pneumonia, bronchitis and a blood infection” as the known ailments that have plagued Holt in prison. She notes that Holt’s Venezuelan wife, Thamy, was also imprisoned as part of a “terrorism” raid on their home, and she too has been struggling with a torn rotator cuff for which Venezuelan law enforcement have provided little medical care.

Most alarmingly, Holt’s attorney Jeanette Prieto says that fellow prisoners have witnessed Venezuelan authorities torturing Joshua and violating his right to practice his religion. Guards have forced Holt to strip naked, including removing his religiously mandated undergarments. Holt’s father Jason confirmed that such treatment was an especial affront to Mormons: “as an LDS person, to make him do that is degrading.”

Speaking to the Associated Press, Prieto noted that the “exercises” he was forced to perform naked were physically rigorous for him but, more importantly, the disrobing was a violation of his religious freedom. “This violates all conventions of prisoner treatment internationally,” she told the AP, “for them, disrobing is something very shameful.”

She notes that other prisoners confirmed Holt was being paraded nude in the prison’s hallways.

At least one of those prisoners confirmed that Holt appeared shaken in prison. Francisco Márquez, a Venezuelan anti-socialist activist, said after his release in October that he saw Holt in his prison and “his eyes lit up a little bit because there was another person that spoke English and I know that meant something… Even though he speaks Spanish, it’s never the same hearing your mother tongue.” Márquez confirmed he also saw other prisoners “forced to run naked for hours under the hot sun as punishment for a failed escape attempt.”

Joshua Holt and his wife, Thamy, were arrested in June after Venezuelan secret police (Sebin) broke into their home and claimed to find a stockpile of weapons. Eyewitnesses say they saw police officers enter the apartment and plant weapons before the raid, and prosecutors have yet to give the Holts their day in court to argue their side of the story.

Many suspect that the false “terrorism” charges against Holt are an attempt to extort the U.S. government for cash. Venezuela is a close ally of Iran, which recently received a $400 million ransom from the Obama administration for the liberation of four U.S. citizens. The socialist dictatorship of President Nicolás Maduro has also reportedly cooperated with Iran’s terror proxy, Hezbollah. As the Venezuelan economy has all but collapsed under Maduro, the government must find new sources of income.

Laurie Holt reportedly told Venezuelan media that the socialist government had reached out, demanding $10,000 in exchange for Joshua’s freedom, though that accusation has yet to surface in her English-language interviews.

The Holts appear hopeful that Venezuela will release their son soon. Posting on a Facebook page they designed to share news about Holt with those concerned for his wellbeing, they noted that Caracas granted a U.S. representative a visit with Holt with little anticipation, a new development in the case.

The Holts have condemned both Venezuela and the “byzantine” U.S. bureaucracy for not doing enough to save their son, however. In a Washington Post column published earlier this month, Jason and Laurie Holt protested that their attempts to engage the U.S. State Department for help in saving their son were only moderately successful because they had help seeking the proper connections within the department: “The families who have the most access and most success with our own government are those who understand how to work the system.”

They reserved their most ardent condemnation, of course, for the Venezuelan government, noting that even writing a column about his ordeal may threaten his life: “Every time we speak out, prison officials punish and threaten him, denying him access to visitors. They recently forced him to undress and respond to humiliating commands while naked, violating Josh’s Latter-day Saints religious beliefs and practices. The prison has also repeatedly refused court-ordered medical treatment for his deteriorating health.”

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