Venezuela Denies Attorney Right to Visit U.S. Citizen Held Hostage on ‘Terror’ Charges

A woman holds a photograph of Josh Holt, an American jailed in Venezuela, during a rally at the Utah State Capitol Saturday, July 30, 2016, in Salt Lake City. Laurie Holt says her son was mistakenly accused, and has lost weight and gotten sick since he was jailed nearly a …
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

An attorney representing Joshua Holt, an American arrested in Venezuela under dubious “terrorism” charges, says she has not been allowed to see him for most of December, since the fourth scheduled hearing the judge in his case chose not to attend.

Speaking to Fox News, Jeannette Prieto says Venezuela’s Secret Police (Sebin) have denied her access to her clients, Holt and his wife Thamara Caleño, on three separate occasions. “They don’t let me in, the last three times I’ve been in the Sebin they didn’t let me in. They keep me at the door for about 5 minutes and then they ask me to leave,” she told the outlet.

The Holt family lost its final opportunity to see Venezuela’s socialist prison system free their son and daughter-in-law on December 7 when the government had scheduled a hearing on Holt’s case. For the fourth time, Judge Elena Cassiani was absent from the proceedings, making it impossible for the court to hear the case. The court rescheduled for January 5 but has since not allowed Prieto to meet with her clients, leaving her ill-equipped to represent them at that hearing.

Prosecutors are seeking charges against Holt and Caleño for terrorism and illegal possession of arms after a raid in which police claim to have found heavy weapons in Caleño’s apartment, an allegation the Holt family insists is impossible, and witnesses to the raid corroborate, accusing police of planting the evidence.

Holt, a Utah native, had traveled to Venezuela to meet and marry Caleño, whom he fell in love with after meeting online. His arrest followed the news of Venezuela’s ally Iran releasing several U.S. citizens arrested on numerous suspect charges; in August, news outlets reported that those American citizens were released in exchange for a large sum payment to the Iranian government — a deal opponents branded a “ransom.” Iran has since apprehended another American citizen, perhaps waiting for a new deal with the White House.

On a page set up to bring awareness to the case, the Holt family wrote Thursday that they still harbor hope the Venezuelan government will set their son free: “We will NOT give up this fight, we will NOT forget them and we will continue to keep going until they’re home where they’re supposed to be.”

Last time Prieto was allowed to meet with Holt, she said fellow prisoners told her that guards were torturing him and that he had lost 50 pounds in prison. Other prisoners had reportedly seen guards force Holt to strip naked and perform “calisthenics,” which Prieto noted was a violation of Holt’s religious rights. As a practicing Mormon, Holt’s religion does not permit him to remove religious undergarments in front of strangers. “As an LDS person, to make him do that is degrading,” Prieto told the Associated Press. “This violates all conventions of prisoner treatment internationally.”

Laurie Holt, Joshua Holt’s mother, added that she had heard from prison officials that Holt was additionally suffering from “pneumonia, bronchitis and a blood infection.” Less is known about Thamara Caleño’s condition, though Laurie Holt told the Idaho State Journal in November that her daughter-in-law suffered from a torn rotator cuff.

In their update this week, Fox News notes that the House of Representatives has passed a resolution calling for Holt to return home and that Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly mentioned Holt to socialist Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro during a visit to Latin America. There is little evidence the Venezuelan government felt an urgency to act after these maneuvers, however.


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