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Support grows for detainees
The chants of the Muslim women were louder than those of the men as they demanded an immediate intervention by the T&T Government to have the eight T&T Muslim men freed from a Venezuelan prison. The group, which appeared more vociferous than the day before, consisted mostly of women and children, who lined the pavement outside the Venezuelan Embassy at Victoria Avenue, Port-of-Spain, yesterday. They were supported by Ruth Albornoz of the group Venezuelans in T&T.
Albornoz said the plight of the detained Muslims echoed the hardships of the Venezuelan people, who have no access to basic commodities, including toilet paper. “Venezuelans share a kind of sentiment in a way that we are living this kind of thing. Our students are being tortured, being abused, being raped...we are defending human rights. “We don’t care about being from any religion, whether Muslims (or not). If your rights were violated, our rights are being violated right now as we speak in Venezuela,” Albornoz said.
A teacher at the University of T&T (UTT), Albornoz said she fled Venezuela some 12 years ago and made this country her home. She also called on the Venezuelan government to apologise to the Muslim community for treatment of the detainees. If the matter goes to a tribunal, Albornoz said, there was the possibility that the Muslims would not get a fair hearing. Local Muslim groups have knocked Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and President Anthony Carmona for standing idly by and doing nothing.
Hisham Muhammad Hassan said it appeared Carmona cared more for giraffes than for citizens, a reference to the President’s public concern over the culling of a giraffe in Denmark in February. “My concern is not only for the imams, but there are about 50 to 60 people who invested money to visit the holy land. All that is jumping up now all because people are held under a situation with no evidence,” Hassan said.
The detained men, who include three well respected imams from masjids in T&T, were due to visit Saudi Arabia on an Umrah trip to Mecca last Tuesday. They had 60 passports with them and US$102,000 in cash, which was seized. They were held at the Plaza Hotel, Sabana Grande in downtown Caracas.
TRIBUNAL JUST A RUMOUR
Inshan Ishmael of the Muslim Social and Cultural Foundation said statements that the eight were supposed to appear before a Venezuelan tribunal were a rumour. Ishmael said he has been keeping in touch with the men by phone and they had no knowledge of this. “We were informed directly from them that they have not appeared before any tribunal. Their attorneys are not aware of any tribunal, and it looks as if this issue is to be dragged on for the next 45 days.
“We will continue to fight to ensure they are freed,” Ishmael said.
WE DID ALL WE COULD: GARY
Contacted yesterday National Security Minister Gary Griffith said the T&T Government had been doing everything that was diplomatically possible to assist the eight detained men. He said Venezuela’s justice system must be respected. “In similar manner, if anything happens with our law enforcement officers, and our officials arrest anyone from another country, that country obviously has to understand and respect the authority of T&T, based on what may have happened.
“So it would be inappropriate for us to do more than we can and should do,” Griffith said.