- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 16, 2018

CARACAS, Venezuela — A Utah man imprisoned in Venezuela for two years without trial pleading for Americans’ help getting out of a Caracas jail, saying Wednesday in a clandestinely shot video that his life was threatened during a prison riot.

In two 20-second videos shot on a cellphone and posted on his Facebook page, a visibly distraught Joshua Holt suggested that his patience is running out with the U.S. government, which has made his release a top priority in its dealings with Venezuela’s socialist government.

“I’ve been begging my government for two years. They say they’re doing things but I’m still here,” said Holt.

The 26-year-old Holt traveled to Venezuela in 2016 to marry a fellow Mormon he met on the internet. Shortly afterward, the couple was arrested at her family’s apartment in a Caracas public housing project after police said they found him stockpiling an assault weapon and grenades.

“Please my fellow Americans don’t allow me to continue suffering in Venezuela,” Holt said in a written message, also posted on his Facebook page. “I am not a political pawn I am a human being a child of God and I just want to live happy with my wife and children. I have NEVER done anything wrong in my life. Please help me!”

His first-ever video message from jail came amid what the U.S. government and the lawyers of other prisoners described as a “riot” Wednesday by fellow inmates, including some of President Nicolas Maduro’s top opponents being held alongside the American. The disturbance, the extent of which was not immediately known, came as Venezuelans are on edge days before a presidential election that Maduro is widely expected to win despite a crushing economic crisis marked by widespread shortages and hyperinflation.

“The people have taken the entire prison. They’re trying to break in. They’re saying they want to kill me. They’re saying they want me as their guarantee,” Holt said in one of the videos, without clarifying who was allegedly trying to harm him.

The Trump administration has suggested there are political motives for his continued detention. His trial on weapons charges was scheduled to start Tuesday but Holt and his wife, Thamara Caleno, were never taken to the courthouse by their jailers at El Helicoide, headquarters to Venezuela’s feared Sebin intelligence police.

“The Sebin has told me that as long as my government continues attacking this government and as long as Marco Rubio continues talking about me the longer that they will never let me go,” Holt said in a written message, referring to the Republican senator from Florida who has accused Maduro of keeping Holt as a “hostage” to extract concessions from the U.S.

The Trump administration has warned that it could put crippling oil sanctions on Venezuela if Maduro goes ahead with what the U.S. and others consider a sham presidential election Sunday. Several of his top opponents were barred from running.

A group of about 30 people, many of them family members of inmates considered by many to be political prisoners, gathered outside the jail to seek information about their loved ones.

“We are concerned about the riot at El Helicoide,” the top U.S. diplomat in Venezuela, Todd Robinson, said in a statement, referring to the helix-shaped building where Maduro’s top opponents are being held.

Joshua Holt and other U.S. citizens are in danger,” Robinson said. “The government of Venezuela is directly responsible for their safety and will be held responsible if anything happens to them. We renew our call for the government to release ?Joshua Holt on humanitarian grounds.?”?

Chief Prosecutor Tarek William Saab said he sent a commission to the prison to speak with a representative of the inmates. While he didn’t provide details about the disturbance, or what sparked it, he said the delegates offered to coordinate with prison and judicial authorities to address the inmates’ demands.

Joshua Goodman on Twitter: https://twitter.com/APjoshgoodman


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