Unrest in Venezuela spills over into prison where Utah man is held

May 16, 2018, 10:09 PM | Updated: 10:32 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Wednesday proved to be extremely tense for a man imprisoned in Venezuela and his family in Utah, as news spread of a riot at the facility where he is being held.

The riot reportedly started after one activist was beaten by other prisoners at the Helicoide prison.

Videos subsequently surfaced from Josh Holt, who was arrested on a weapons charge in June 2016, after traveling to Venezuela to marry a woman he’d met online.

Josh Holt

“I need… I need help,” Holt said in one of the videos, which was published to Facebook. “So, they’ve taken the entire prison where I’m at — people have taken the entire prison. They’re outside, they’re trying to break in, and they’re saying they want to kill me, they want me as a guarantee.”

Laurie Holt said Wednesday evening that the situation had apparently improved from when the videos from Josh initially surfaced, but she gave no assurances.

“I can’t say that he’s OK, because I don’t know,” his mother said, teary-eyed. “I know that he is afraid for his life right now—it’s never been like this until now.”

She described the violence at the prison, which reportedly left multiple prisoners injured, as a “horrible nightmare.”

Laurie Holt, Josh’s mother

“I still feel like I’m pretty strong, but I can definitely feel it wearing me down — mentally, physically,” Laurie Holt said. “My emotions are always just right there at the edge.

The family remained confident that politicians and the U.S. government were doing everything they could, but Laurie Holt acknowledged she didn’t know what it would take to ultimately free her son.

“He’s only 26-years-old—he hasn’t lived his life,” she said. “If I could change places with him, I would. If I could go there, I would.”

State Department officials renewed their calls for Venezuela to release Holt on humanitarian grounds.

Several Utah politicians took note of the riot Wednesday.

“Senator Hatch has been aware of Josh’s situation throughout the day and been in communication with Josh’s family, the Trump administration, and contacts in Venezuela,” a statement from Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, read. “He remains focused on Josh’s safety as we work to bring him home on humanitarian grounds.”

Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, also issued a statement.

“I am extremely concerned about this situation, but have been assured that Josh is safe at this time,” Love said in the statement. “It is time for the State Department to quickly produce a plan of action in order to resolve this situation once and for all. Josh and his family have suffered far too long.”

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Unrest in Venezuela spills over into prison where Utah man is held