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Five Trinis in Venezuelan custody: Hoping for an Eid verdict
For Eid-ul-Fitr this year, five Trinidadian Muslims being held in a Venezuelan prison for over 130 days are hoping to be granted their freedom when their matter is heard before a Venezuelan court tomorrow. On March 19, Wade Charles, Dominic Pitilal, Asim Luqman, Andre Battersby, and Leslie Daisley, along with seventeen other Trinidadians, were detained on allegations of terrorism after the Venezuelan intelligence agency Sebin raided their hotel room.
In a telephone interview, Nafeesa Mohammed, spokesperson for the group, said the men and their families were eagerly awaiting the hearing. “Since June 30, we expected a verdict but the matter was adjourned to July 29. “We were hoping they would have been released for Ramadan but that did not happen. And now Eid is right around the corner and they and their families don’t have anything to look forward to.” She said the men struggled through Ramadan, keeping all their fasts and performing their prayers under difficult conditions.
“It’s taking a toll. They fasted but had problems with breaking their fast and getting proper meals. They got so frustrated that they stopped performing their daily prayers at the place they would usually do.”
She said the men’s families in T&T were struggling even more. “Their families have been suffering throughout this period. Charles has ten children, his mother and spouses; Luqman has his spouse, two children; Pitilal has his spouse and three very young boys including a nine month old baby; Andre Battersby has his niece and Lesley Daisley has a spouse who is struggling to survive in Tobago.” She said the families’ wish for Eid this year was to be reunited with their fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers.
“Their breadwinners are behind bars for no other reason but that they are Muslims who are being held as suspected terrorists. No formal charges have been laid and it’s over one hundred days they are in prison.” Mohammed said a mix-up over two of the men’s ‘criminal records’ were clarified by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Those initial documents which said two of the men had criminal records related to a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister were misleading and incorrect because they had none.
“However that stigma followed them. So we alerted the authorities here and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a diplomatic note to the Trinidadian embassy in Venezuela who sent it to Venezuela’s External Affairs Ministry to rectify the situation.” Mohammed said although the matter was in court, the T&T Government could still use diplomatic means to rectify the situation as soon as possible.
“We’re begging the Government to use the highest level of diplomacy to get the speedy release of the men. What we’ve realised is that because the Minister of Foreign Affairs is often out of the country, we are not getting a coordinated effort to deal with this matter. “The Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Venezuela and T&T should be in constant communication on this matter, but that has not been the case.”
Foreign Affairs minister Winston Dookeran said in a brief telephone interview he should have an update on the situation by today.