Yellow Ribbon Project

'Devastating' Year Passes Since Venezuelan Officials Seized Utah Man

Laurie Holt holds a photograph of her son Joshua Holt at her home, in Riverton, Utah, on July 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Today marks a year of imprisonment for a recent Mormon missionary held by Venezuela, and his home state lawmakers are calling on Nicolas Maduro’s government to let the young man go for humanitarian reasons.

Joshua Holt, 24, of Riverton, Utah, met a fellow Mormon, Thamara Caleño, 25, online and last year traveled to her home country to get married. The couple settled down in Caracas while waiting for a visa appointment for Caleño and her two young daughters to get approval to come to the United States.

Police raided her apartment on June 30, 2016, claiming they found illegal weapons and that the couple were linked to an opposition paramilitary gang. Thamara’s mother, María Caleño, told NPR that she witnessed the raid and saw police slip weapons into Holt’s luggage before declaring they found the weapons.

A witness told the Miami Herald that police were conducting door-to-door searches when they took issue with Holt filming their activities with his phone. Two hours later, she said, masked officers who may have been military intelligence came back with weapons, “found” the weapons and arrested Holt’s wife as well.

“One year ago the dreaded message came through that Josh and Thamy had been detained under false accusations,” Holt’s mother, Laurie Moon Holt, posted today on a Facebook page about his case. “2 weeks after Josh had married the love of his life he was framed for a crime he did not commit. Never in a million years did we think one year later they would still be detained with no hearings, no justice, and in conditions nobody can even imagine.”

“We have reached the highest government we can possibly reach. We will NOT give up and we WILL continue to fight. Please help us share Josh and Thamy’s story as we need to get their story out! Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all the love, support, messages and prayers,” she continued. “We can’t thank you enough. This last year has been absolutely horrible but with all of your support we have been able to get through! We pray for Venezuela and their people daily!”

State Department press secretary Heather Nauert told reporters Thursday that “medical and consular access to Mr. Holt has continued to be slow and grudging since February.”

“We’ve made multiple calls for the Venezuelan government to release him on humanitarian grounds. The protracted delays in providing him even a preliminary hearing and filing formal charges cast serious doubts on the merit of and the lawfulness of his detention,” Nauert said at the opening of the daily briefing. “His detention has been made all the more difficult and painful due to ongoing medical ailments, which have worsened by delays and denials of proper care.”

“Through private discussions, dozens of diplomatic notes, and public statements, we’ve repeatedly raised concerns about his health and his conditions of his detention and his treatment with Venezuelan authorities. His case has been raised at the highest levels of the Venezuelan Government by numerous U.S. officials,” she added. “…We again call on the government of Venezuela to immediately release him on humanitarian grounds so that he can return to the United States.”

Utah Sen. Mike Lee (R) and Utah Reps. Rob Bishop (R), Chris Stewart (R) and Mia Love (R) issued a joint statement emphasizing they’re “saddened” by the one-year anniversary.

“Beloved by many, Mr. Holt has been held unjustly for a year by the Venezuelan government without full legal proceedings and is believed to be suffering from lack of medical care,” the lawmakers said. “We – as elected officials from Utah – are calling attention to his case today and ask for his expeditious release on humanitarian grounds. All of our thoughts and prayers continue to be with Joshua and his family.”

Separately, on Thursday, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) released a video calling for action on this “devastating anniversary.”

“Venezuela is in the midst of tremendous civil turmoil, which has complicated the fragile diplomatic waters of getting Josh released,” Hatch said. “From the time of his arrest last June, I’ve enlisted help from every level of government, and I’m confident our diplomatic efforts will pay off in time.”