Trump asked to help free Mormon jailed on weapons charges in Venezuela
Laurie Holt with a photo of her imprisoned son, Joshua. (Photo: deseretnews.com)
UTAH – The mother of a Utah man jailed and allegedly subjected to “horrifying abuse” for the last seven months in Venezuela has begged US President Donald Trump to help free her son.
In her new YouTube video, Laurie Holt reiterated her belief that that her son Joshua Holt is being used as a “political pawn” by Venezuela’s government.
Joshua Holt and his wife, an Ecuadorean national, were arrested on June 30 on weapons charges. Venezuelan officials alleged that he was stockpiling weapons at his wife’s apartment and have suggested his case is linked to other unspecified attempts by the US government to undermine President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist administration.
Laurie has staunchly refuted that claim, insisting that her son, a former Mormon missionary, travelled to Venezuela to marry a woman he met online while seeking Spanish-speaking Mormons to help him improve his Spanish.
In her video, the Riverton, Utah resident criticized the inability of former President Barack Obama’s administration to gain freedom for her son, going on to appeal to Trump’s patriotism.
“President Trump, my son’s only offence was that he was an American citizen. I know that you surely agree that being a citizen of this great nation should mean something,” she said.
“Josh and his wife and our entire family have been living in a hellish fog for the last months. My son has undergone the most horrifying and degrading physical and mental abuse.”
The video was posted a week after US Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah mentioned the case in a meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
During his confirmation hearing, Tillerson did not mention Holt by name but said he planned to demand that Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro release all political prisoners.
In recent months, Laurie has endured a series of disappointments as four different hearings scheduled to discuss her son’s plight have been cancelled. No new hearings are currently scheduled.
Will Cocks, spokesman for the US State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, said the department is concerned about the postponements and is following Holt’s case closely.
The department has raised the matter with the Venezuelan government, urging respect for Holt’s human rights and an expedited effort to resolve the case, Cocks said in a statement.
He added that consular officers most recently visited Holt on January 16 and will continue to make regular visits.
Former Secretary of State John Kerry raised Holt’s jailing during a meeting with President Maduro in September, and a senior State Department official travelled to Caracas twice in recent months in part to push for his release.
The US House passed a resolution in September calling for the release of Holt and other political prisoners in Venezuela, but the pressure has so far yielded no tangible results.
Joshua Holt is being held in a prison in Caracas run by Venezuela’s intelligence police, that also holds a number of activists that the opposition considers political prisoners.
Human rights groups contend that Maduro’s government is using Holt and his wife as bargaining chips to extract unspecified concessions from the United States.