In an executive order announcing sanctions against Venezuela on Friday, President Donald Trump called for the release of Josh Holt, a Utahn who has been detained in that country for more than a year.
Holt was arrested in June 2016, on an accusation of illegally possessing weapons, which his family has called false.
“The United States is also very concerned about the situation of Joshua Holt, a young American being detained illegally by the Maduro regime for over a year now. We once again call for his immediate release on humanitarian grounds,” states the executive order, which was signed Thursday.
The order, effective Friday, prohibits U.S. banks from making new financial deals with the Venezuelan government or the state-run oil company. It also prohibits Americans from dealing in new debt or equity with the Venezuelan government.
The Trump administration had called for Holt’s “immediate release on humanitarian grounds” while discussing the sanctions in a conference call on July 26.
The offices of Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Mia Love have worked with Josh Holt’s family over the past year to increase pressure on the Venezuelan government for the release of their son and his wife, Thamara “Thamy” Caleno.
“For more than a year, I have been focused on Josh Holt‘s release, which started with a false arrest and devolved to a lack of due process and poor treatment in a Venezuelan prison,” stated a news release from Love’s office. ”I have stood side by side with Laurie Holt time and time again to put pressure on our government to intercede. Our office has relentlessly appealed to the previous and current president to make Josh’s release a priority and finally the president has responded.”
Hatch tweeted about the sanctions Friday morning, and reaffirmed his support for Josh Holt.
“Senator Hatch has been working with this administration and the last for over a year to get Josh released and home to his family in Riverton. He deeply appreciates the personal attention President Trump, Vice President Pence and Secretary Tillerson have given to the case, including in today‘s executive order. Senator Hatch is committed to fighting until Josh and Thamy are home here in Utah,” spokesman Matt Whitlock wrote in a released statement.
In July, Hatch stood with Laurie and Jason Holt to call on the White House to release a statement about the imprisonment and to request that United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley consider removing Venezuela from the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The family had also demanded medical care of their son, who had suffered a concussion and a possible back fracture when he fell 6 to 8 feet from his bunk, according to his Salt Lake City-based lawyer, Carlos Trujillo.
Trujillo said he and the Holt family are grateful that Josh Holt was mentioned in the executive order.
In mid-July, Trujillo requested a conditional release for Josh Holt and his wife, which, if granted, would allow the couple to be on house arrest in Venezuela while they await trial.
Holt traveled to Venezuela to marry Caleno, whom he met online while looking for someone to practice Spanish with. He had learned the language while serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Washington state.
The couple married on June 16, 2016, and planned to return to Utah once Caleno obtained a visa, but they were arrested on accusations that Holt was a spy and had a gun and grenade in Caleno’s apartment.
Holt’s preliminary hearing has been rescheduled five times in the past year, according to Trujillo, and has yet to be scheduled a sixth because of unrest and protests in the country.