Lawyers say Venezuela is torturing jailed Utah man

FILE - In this July 13, 2016 file photo, Laurie Holt holds a photograph of her son Joshua Holt at her home, in Riverton, Utah. At a press conference Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016, attorney Jeanette Prieto said Holt was stripped naked and made to perform exercises in a hallway. She said the mistreatment violated international treaties. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuelan prison guards forced a jailed Utah man to strip naked in a hallway and perform exercises, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Attorney Jeanette Prieto said that forcing Joshua Holt to strip and perform exercises in a hallway violated international agreements on the treatment of prisoners.

She added that the prison guards had violated Holt's Mormon faith by forcing him to remove his undergarments, which are similar to holy vestments worn in other religious faiths, such as a Catholic nun's habit or a Muslim skull cap.

Holt was arrested on June 30 on weapons charges. He had travelled to Venezuela to marry a woman he met online while looking for Spanish-speaking Mormons to help him improve his Spanish. Prosecutors say Holt was using his wife's apartment to stockpile weapons. Venezuela officials say his case is linked to attempts by the U.S. to overthrow the socialist government.

Holt's attorneys did not provide evidence of the mistreatment. Prison officials did not respond to requests for comment. Holt was to have a hearing Tuesday, but the audience was cancelled, as often happens in Venezuela's sclerotic judicial system.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry raised concerns about Holt's case last month during a meeting with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah said in a statement Tuesday that he was disappointed by reports of Holt's mistreatment. He said he'll continue to work with Kerry and Vice-President Joe Biden to demand answers. He commended Josh for "his tremendous courage throughout this terrible situation."

Rep. Mia Love of Utah, who is also working on Holt's behalf, said in a statement that she was outraged and heartbroken. The latest cancellation of a hearing "represents a lack of respect for human dignity and civil rights," Love said.

Holt's mother was distraught when reached by phone Tuesday in Utah about yet another cancelled hearing and the news her son had been treated poorly.

"It infuriates me. They're not treating him like he should be treated," said Laurie Holt, crying. "Obviously, they're not giving him due process. At this point, I'm not sure where to go or what to do but pick back up and start fighting again."

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Hannah Dreier reported from Caracas. Brady McCombs reported from Salt Lake City, Utah.

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