Free at last.
The five T&T men who were detained in Venezuela since 2014 are being released and sent home after serving time, National Security Minister Edmund Dillon confirmed yesterday.
"Justice has been done. They are T&T nationals and they will return home," he added.
The five–Dominic Pitilal, Wade Charles, Asim Luqman, Andre Battersby and Leslie Daisley–were detained in Venezuela since March 2014 on terrorism activity charges.
They had gone to Caracas allegedly to seek visas for Hajj. A T&T group which had likewise gone to seek visas for a pilgrimage were also detained. Under the supervision of Captain Richard Kelshall and other officials of the then PP adminstration, that group–including several imams–were released soon after and they returned home.
However, the men were detained and taken to court subsequently to face terrorism charges.
Family, friends, and legal representatives such as attorney Nafeesa Mohammed (former deputy PNM leader) who said the men were innocent, have been lobbying ever since for their release.
Pitilal's wife and son wrote letters to the Prime Minister appealing for assistance in the last five months.
During a May meeting in Port-of-Spain between Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Government took the opportunity to ask for the matter regarding the men to be expedited. Shortly after, the charges were changed to intention to commit espionage and to commit a criminal act.
The men continued appearing in court on these matters.
But relatives said they were reluctant to plead guilty since they did not want such a conviction on their record as this would keep them under future scrutiny and prevent them from travelling. Associates of the men in Enterprise again called for their release recently.
Three weeks ago, government officials learned the matter was close to conclusion. The matter was heard in a Venezuelan court between Thursday and Friday with T&T Caracas Embassy senior officials present.
Dillion via statement said the final hearing ended with a verdict and sentencing at 1.30 am yesterday.
"The judge passed a guilty verdict and a sentence of two years, six months and 25 days was given."
Dillon said that was equivalent to the length of time they had been detained.
"The judge ruled that they have already served time and are now free. As such they will now be processed and deported to Piarco at the earliest opportunity," he added.
Amid much jubilation by families, friends, and attorney Mohammed yesterday, Dillon made it clear Government could not have interfered in the ongoing judicial process of another country.
A similar position had been stated by Foreign Affairs Minister Dennis Moses last Tuesday when the Sunday Guardian contacted him on the Venezuelan matter and two other similar issues.
Moses said he had had talks while at a recent UN conference with the Turkish foreign minister and Saudi Arabian officials regarding T&T nationals detained in both countries. He declined to divulge details.
Islamic studies student Tariq Shamoon Mohammed has been detained in Saudi Arabia since August 2015.
Mohammed, who had been studying there for several years, had returned home for a visit with his family, but was detained by Saudi authorities on his return there. His family in T&T–including Mohammed–has appealed for a special ambassador to deal with the issue as was done in previous matters regarding T&T nationals.
Also, Government is awaiting word on nine people carrying T&T passports who were detained by Turkish authorities in July in company with a Syrian national reported to have been taking them to join Isis.
The nine, including men, women and a child, are at a Turkish detention centre.