U.S. man jailed in Venezuela gets new hearing date, fellow inmates start hunger strike

Joshua and Thammy Holt (Photo courtesy Facebook)

 (Joshua and Thammy Holt (Photo courtesy Facebook))

While in the U.S. millions of Americans will be picking a president, an American jailed in Venezuela since June 30 will be hoping and praying for his day in court.

Joshua Holt, a 24-year-old from Utah, has been granted a third hearing date on Nov. 8, after two previous ones (Sept. 15 and Oct. 11) were suspended at the last minute without explanation.

His family members in Utah agonize over his worsening health condition and try to provide legal assistance from afar. In Venezuela, Holt spends his days and nights in a government building run by the obscure Intelligence Police known as Sebin.

Holt and his Venezuelan wife face weapons charges after authorities during a raid allegedly found a small arsenal they say was intended to assist the U.S.’s efforts to undermine President Nicolás Maduro’s socialist rule. Holt and his wife say the weapons were planted.

A source inside the facility where Holt and his wife are being held gave Fox News Latino an insight into the dire conditions prisoners endure there – worst of all foreign-born prisoners like Holt.

“Several foreigners have been here for more than a year without a trial and Sebin officials don’t let them see their attorneys or any visitor,” the source, who is a political prisoner, said.

The source said Holt lives in a 10 by 10-foot cell which he shares with other five prisoners, political opponents that have been languishing there for years.

“He is treated very badly,” the source said of Holt. “Not even during visiting hours do they leave him alone.”

At this time, several inmates are holding a hunger strike to protest the poor conditions of confinement: the cells are not only overcrowded, but flooded with sewage water that is sickening them to different degrees.

“There are more than 10 Colombians protesting, some of them on hunger strike, as well as four Trinidadians,” he said. “They all ask for a fair trial and to be transferred to another prison.”

The source told FNL that the most prominent prisoners, like former mayors Daniel Ceballos, Delson Guarate and Yon Goicoechea, are being held in a different area in slightly better conditions.

On Friday, Holt’s lawyer filed a human rights violations complaint before the court.

“Holt was forced to take off his clothes and do squats in a hallway. The reason for that punishment was never explained,” lawyer Jeanince Prieto said. “That is something that affects his dignity and his integrity. The inmates, regardless of their nationality, should be treated with respect”.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry raised concerns about Holt's case last month during a meeting with President Maduro.

Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah said in a statement a few weeks ago that he was disappointed by reports of Holt's mistreatment. He said he'll continue to work with Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden to demand answers. He commended Josh for "his tremendous courage throughout this terrible situation."

Rep. Mia Love of Utah, who is also working on Holt's behalf, said in a statement that she was outraged and heartbroken. The latest cancellation of a hearing "represents a lack of respect for human dignity and civil rights," Love said.

Alex Vasquez is a freelance reporter living in Caracas, Venezuela.