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Utah man held in Venezuela since June has court hearing delayed for the 4th time

Laurie Holt, mother of Josh Holt, cries during a rally at the Utah State Capitol on July 30, 2016.

Laurie Holt, mother of Josh Holt, cries during a rally at the Utah State Capitol on July 30, 2016.  (ap)

A Utah family has once again received a crushing blow about their jailed son, 24-year-old Joshua Holt. 

Holt has been in imprisoned in Venezuela since June on weapon charges, and any hopes he had of being reunited with his family by Christmas were dashed Tuesday with the fourth postponement of his preliminary hearing.

Judge Elena Cassiani did not appear for the scheduled hearing at which she was supposed to rule on whether to dismiss the charges against Holt. A new date was set for January.

Josh was scheduled for a hearing in September, and then in October, and again in November, but in every case the judge failed to appear.  

The courts are closed through the holidays.

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“That will mean three years of holidays without my son,” Josh's mother, Laurie MoonHolt told FNL.

Holt, a former Mormon missionary traveled to Venezuela to marry a woman he met online while looking for Spanish-speaking Mormons to help him improve his Spanish. Venezuelan officials allege he was using his wife's apartment to stockpile weapons and have suggested his case is linked to other unspecified attempts by the U.S. government to undermine President Nicolas Maduro's socialist rule amid deep economic and political turbulence.

The U.S. House passed a resolution in September calling for the release of Holt and other political prisoners in Venezuela. Secretary of State John Kerry raised Holt's jailing during a meeting with Maduro in September, and a senior State Department official traveled to Caracas twice in recent weeks in part to push for his release.

The pressure has so far yielded no tangible results. Human rights groups contend Maduro's government is using Holt and his jailed wife, an Ecuadorian national, as bargaining chips to extract concessions from the United States.

Holt is being held in a prison in Caracas run by Venezuela's intelligence police. The facility also holds a number of activists that the opposition considers political prisoners.

His lawyer says that Holt has lost considerable weight and suffered from a host of ailments, including kidney stones. Holt also has allegedly had to endure harassment by prison guards who forced him to strip naked in a hallway and perform exercises.

The Holts have hired a team of lawyers in an effort to get Josh and Thamara released, and kept the story alive via social media. 

In a letter from jail, Holt said the assault rifle and a grenade found in his wife's apartment were planted when he refused to pay police a bribe during a routine raid in the government-built housing complex where he was staying with his wife and her son.

Interior Minister Gustavo Gonzalez, who oversees the intelligence police and was sanctioned by the Obama administration in 2014 for human rights abuses, has called Holt a "trained gunman" intent on destabilizing Venezuela.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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