Josh Holt, a former Mormon missionary who has been held in Venezuela for almost 18 months, will stand trial on weapons charges, despite growing fears about his health.
According to the Associated Press, a Venezuelan judge ruled Tuesday that Holt, who has been detained since June 30, 2016, can face trial for allegedly hiding firearms and a hand grenade. Holt’s lawyers, family and an eyewitness to his detention say the charges are trumped up.
The ruling comes just a day after Holt’s family released a jailhouse audio of him sounding weak and frightened, complaining of intestinal problems.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Alarmed by the recording, Holt’s family on Monday pleaded with the administration in Caracas to release him.
“Josh Holt is in a delicate state and therefore we ask again that Venezuela releases him under humanitarian grounds immediately,” the family said in a statement. “Our leaders in the U.S. Government [should] double their efforts in bringing him home before it’s too late.”
On Tuesday, after months of missed court dates and postponed hearings, a judge in Caracas ruled he would stand trial. Holt’s family confirmed the news late Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, before the ruling, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert called on Caracas to release him on humanitarian grounds.
“We believe that he is in extremely poor health, which is why we continue to call on the government to release him,” she said.
Holt traveled to Venezuela in June 2016 to marry Thamara Caleño, a Caracas native, and to take her and her two children back to the United States. While they were waiting for their U.S. visas, however, the apartment complex they were staying at was raided and the couple was detained on allegations that they were hiding two automatic rifles and a hand grenade.
Holt’s lawyers and family say he’s innocent. An eyewitness to his arrest says he was framed — that the weapons were planted by police.
Washington and Caracas have been at odds for years, and haven’t exchanged ambassadors since 2010, hindering diplomatic efforts to win Holt’s release.
Follow me on Twitter @jimwyss