PLANNED action by some local Muslim groups to show their disapproval with the Venezuelan government’s decision to detain the three imams in a Venezuelan jail is being met with disapproval by members of their family.
The three imams along with five other Trinidadian men, identified as Dominic Clive Pitilal, Andre Joseph Battersby, Asim Luqman, Charles Wade and Leslie Doisely, are being kept in a Venezuelan prison for alleged crimes of terrorism and criminal association.
“We are asking all of them out there not to engage in any kind of action unless it is endorsed by the family members,” said president of the Islamic Missionaries Guild of the Caribbean and South America, Imtiaz Mohammed.
“We don’t want what is being done by the Trinidadian authorities with our assistance to be put in jeopardy,” pleaded Mohammed, who spoke on behalf of the family members at a news conference arranged at the Islamic Centre in Kelly Village, Caroni, yesterday afternoon.
Based on information which Mohammed said he obtained, there is one religious media organisation planning a protest outside the Venezuelan Embassy in Port of Spain tomorrow. “This could potentially undo all the work that is being done by the T&T authorities with our assistance to have the imams freed,” Mohammed emphasised.
He said contrary to what Imam Hamza Mohammed had claimed in an exclusive interview with CCN (Express and TV6 News) yesterday, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago “was doing all it can to secure their release”.
The family members had received encouraging word that the imams would be home by the end of the week, pointed out Mohammed. “We expect they will be released in the next 24 to 48 hours, from all information given to us by authorities in Trinidad and Tobago, and hopefully we will have them here soon.”
During the news conference, the wives of imams Salam Abdul and Hamza Mohammad, together with the sister of Sheikh Hamid Hassan listened intently with anxiety etched on their faces, as they hoped for a speedy resolution to the plight of their loved ones.
Fareeda Khan, the sister of imam Hassan, said the situation had taken a serious toll on their family. “They are torn up about this thing. It is really hard. My sister-in-law only broke the news to his mother about three days after. Our worst fear is that he might not come back home because he is in his 60s and they say if he is charged and found guilty he could get 20 to 25 years in jail,” related an emotional Khan.
The embarrassing arrests of these imams, explained Mohammed, could be avoided in the future if the Government took up recommendations they recently submitted on behalf of the Muslim community in terms of obtaining their visas for the Hajji or Umrah.
“I think the Trinidad and Tobago Government needs to look at another avenue to work with the Saudi government in being able to get visas usually for Trinidad and Tobago citizens for Hajji and Umrah. Even if it means going to United Kingdom, New York or Washington.”
Mohammed pointed out Guyanese nationals did not need to apply for a licence like Trinidadians before they could obtain visas issued to travel to Saudi Arabia.
Griffith: We did help
Minister of National Security Gary Griffith said there was an “unfortunate perception painted that this country was not helping in the process” of trying to secure the release of the imprisoned imams and the others in Venezuela.
Griffith, who is in Bahamas, in a telephone interview sent to CCN conducted by the Government Information Services Ltd (GISL), said it was because of this country’s delegation that visited Venezuela soon after the arrest of all the Trinidadians that they were able to secure the release of the women and children.
“Because of our proactivity, we were able to secure the release of eight women and six children that were held in Venezuela, and additionally we continue to work to secure the possible release of the three imams, so it is unfortunate a statement like this could be made that we have not done as much as we should.”
At the same time, Griffith said they had to tread carefully because this was a sensitive matter that needed much thought. “We have to respect their wishes, their sovereignty, respect their law-enforcement officials,” said Griffith.
Had the situation been reversed, Griffith said this country would have had to observe all protocols and work within the parameters of the law and justice system as required. —MB