Friday, February 23, 2018

5 Trinidadians still detained in Venezuela

It has been more than two months since five Trinidad and Tobago nationals were held by Venezuelan authorities.

The men--Dominic Clive Pitilal, 33; Andre Joseph Battersby, 56; Asim Luqman, 34; Charles Wade, 36; and Leslie Daisley-- remain in custody despite pleas from family and friends that they be released.

They were among 22 Trinidadians who had been taken into custody by the Venezuelan intelligence service SEBIN (Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional) in March after items were allegedly found in their hotel room.

The items consisted of camouflage wear, books and cash.

The men have maintained that they were in Venezuela to obtain visas in order to travel to Saudi Arabia for Hajj (the annual Muslim pilgrimage that is considered a pillar of Islam for which all able Muslims must participate in at least once) and Umrah (a similar pilgrimage that can take place year-round).

Since Saudi Arabia does not have an embassy in Trinidad and Tobago and its Caracas embassy has jurisdiction for T&T, the visas are issued there to Trinidad and Tobago nationals.

Speaking with the Express on Thursday, Admiral Richard Kelshall, who headed a team to Venezuela to secure the release of the T&T nationals, said: “The T&T Government have not been told what their (detainees) official status is.

“We know they are being detained.”

Stating the Trinidad and Tobago delegation has so far secured the release of several women, men and children, Kelshall said: “We requested the Imams be released and they came back. With regards to the other five, they simply have to allow the Venezuelans to continue their investigations and come up with whatever answers their law says.”

Umar Abullah, head of the Islamic Front in Trinidad, told the Express on Saturday: “All the Trinidadian Government needs to do is request for the men to come home. What’s taking you so long? If there were charges to be laid, it would have been laid already.”

Adding that the men are being represented by Venezuelan attorneys, Abullah said the Venezuelan authorities requested recommendations and certificates of good character for the men.

On May 18, Imam of the Montrose Mosque, Hamza Mohammed; Sheik Hassan Hamid from Las Lomas; and Abdul Salaam from Marabella returned to T&T after being detained in Venezuela.

The men had entered Venezuela separately between March 16 and 19 and were detained on March 19, allegedly for plotting terrorist activities.

The imams claimed they were not connected to the group and said they had come to Venezuela to secure visas at the Saudi Arabian consulate for Trinidadians who were going to the Hajj pilgrimage.

On March 29, 14 women and children who had also been detained were released and allowed to return to Trinidad.