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Lawyers say Venezuela is torturing jailed Utah man

FILE - This July 13, 2016, file photo, Laurie Holt holds a photograph of her son Josh Holt at her home in Riverton, Utah. Venezuela prison guards forced Holt to strip naked in a hallway and perform exercises, his lawyer said Tuesday.
FILE - This July 13, 2016, file photo, Laurie Holt holds a photograph of her son Josh Holt at her home in Riverton, Utah. Venezuela prison guards forced Holt to strip naked in a hallway and perform exercises, his lawyer said Tuesday.
Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela prison guards forced a jailed Utah man to strip naked in a hallway and perform exercises, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Attorney Jeanette Prieto said Joshua Holt was stripped and made to perform exercises in a hallway, in violation of international agreements on the treatment of prisoners.

She added that the prison guards had violated Holt's Mormon faith by forcing him to remove his undergarments, which are similar to holy vestments worn in other religious faiths, such as a Catholic nun's habit or a Muslim skullcap.

Holt was arrested on June 30 on weapons charges. He'd traveled to Venezuela to marry a woman he met online while looking for Spanish-speaking Mormons to help him improve his Spanish. Prosecutors say Holt was using his wife's apartment to stockpile weapons. Venezuela officials say his case is linked to attempts by the U.S. to overthrow the socialist government.

Holt's attorneys did not provide evidence of the mistreatment. Prison officials did not respond to requests for comment. Holt was to have a hearing Tuesday, but the audience was canceled, as often happens in Venezuela's sclerotic judicial system.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry raised concerns about Holt's case last month during a meeting with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said in a statement Tuesday that he was disappointed by reports of Holt's mistreatment. He said he'll continue to work with Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden to demand answers. He commended Josh for "his tremendous courage throughout this terrible situation."

Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, who is also working on Holt's behalf, said in a statement that she was outraged and heartbroken. The latest cancellation of a hearing "represents a lack of respect for human dignity and civil rights," Love said.

Holt's mother was distraught when reached by phone Tuesday in Utah about yet another canceled hearing and the news her son had been treated poorly.

"It infuriates me. They're not treating him like he should be treated," said Laurie Holt, crying. "Obviously, they're not giving him due process. At this point, I'm not sure where to go or what to do but pick back up and start fighting again."