Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch is asking Josh Holt not to give up on his faith, despite having spent a year and a half in a Venezuelan prison.
Personnel from the U.S. Embassy delivered a letter from the Republican senator to Holt on Friday, assuring the 26-year-old man that Hatch and others continue to work “tirelessly for your freedom.”
Hatch also told Holt in his letter that he is “confident that this dark chapter will close and you will soon be reunited with your family,” according to a Wednesday news release from Hatch’s office.
Holt and his wife, Thamara “Thamy” Caleno, were arrested by Venezuelan police June 30, 2016. The Riverton native had originally traveled to Venezuela to marry Caleno, whom he’d met online while trying to find someone with whom he could practice speaking Spanish.
The couple had planned to return to Salt Lake City with Caleno’s two daughters when she obtained a visa, but after they returned from their honeymoon, officials accused Holt of stockpiling guns and grenades in Caleno’s apartment.
Holt’s mother, Laurie Holt, says her son is completely innocent and is being used as a political pawn. The mother believes he’s been forced to live in inhumane prison conditions and suffers physically and emotionally.
She’s been working with state and federal leaders — like Hatch — to coordinate his release since the arrest.
Hatch said in his Wednesday news release he is “pleased to have been able to reach out to Josh and reassure him that we are still working hard to get him released. The anguish his family is experiencing is unbearable, but I want them to know that I believe we are making progress.”
Hatch is “working through a number of diplomatic back-channels to get Josh released,” said the senator’s spokesman Matt Whitlock in an email. While he declined to share the details of Hatch’s “sensitive efforts,” Whitlock said Hatch feels confident and was grateful to receive a photo of Holt with his letter from embassy personnel.
The letter opened with a Bible verse and proceeded to commend Holt and Caleno on the faith they’ve shown during their time in prison.
“Please do not give up. I ask that you stand strong in your faith as we continue to pray on your behalf,” Hatch wrote. “… I look forward to the day that I can pray alongside you both as we give thanks to God for having moved this mountain for us.
“You are in my heart, just as you are in my prayers,” the senator told Holt.
According to the Facebook page JusticeForJosh, where Holt’s family posts updates on his situation, Caleno’s younger daughter recently arrived in Utah and is living with Holt’s parents.
“So thankful,” the Tuesday post says. “Now to get the other three home.”