For a second consecutive day, members of the Islamic community in Trinidad and Tobago will assemble in peaceful protest outside the Venezuelan embassy in Port of Spain, after several local Muslims were detained in Venezuela, amid charges of an alleged plot to overthrow the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
Late last month, the website Today Venezuela reported that at least nineteen Trinidadian Muslims were in the custody of the Venezuelan intelligence service SEBIN, under the suspicion of being terrorists. On March 28, several of the detainees were released and flown home to Trinidad, but at least five Trinidad and Tobago nationals, including three Muslim leaders, remain in custody.
The arrested nationals were said to be part of a delegation traveling to Venezuela seeking visas for an Islamic pilgrimage. In an interview with Trinidad and Tobago media, the detainees insisted that there was no plot against the Maduro administration, and pleaded with the Trinidad and Tobago government to bring them home.
Netizens turned to social media to bring attention to the issue. A Facebook page entitled Free Our Brothers In Venezuela has emerged, facilitating a space for online protest about the continued detainment. The page's administrators posted a letter from the wife of one of the detained men:
I am the wife of one of the detainees held in Venezuela. I wasn’t there when this happened the evening of March 19th but I might as well been. This journey so far hasn’t been an easy one. It started of[f] with thinking this is just one big misunderstanding and it would be cleared up by the night time. Today is the 31st of March, 2014 and their situation hasn’t changed. They are still at the hands of their captives and to add to the dreaded situation, the media took this predicament and turned it into a circus, made the situation potentially worst [sic] for my husband and the rest of the brothers detained. For what??? To sell their newspapers. They don’t care for truth. They don’t care that they are destroying lives with their published lies just to make a front page or a headline. Alhamdulillah the women and children were freed. But…what is our situation?
All of the men detained are fathers, husbands, maintainers, providers and protectors of their families. They have fallen victims of this diseased world and it’s [sic] injustice. The worst part of this is feeling alone. We call ourselves muslims and we are afraid to stand up for what is right. Where are the leaders? Are the three imams who are detained the only islamic leaders in Trinidad? Out of the hundreds of thousands of muslims in Trinidad who is standing in support of the brothers in Venezuela? A non-national Venezuelan group who lives in Trinidad; imagine that! We should be ashamed of ourselves. We preach one thing but when Allah tests us what do we do? Turn a blind eye and make dua and hope for the best. All voices suddenly [go] silent while our husbands, fathers and brothers are left in this situation and at the hands of a Venezuelan ‘justice’ system.
We call ourselves Trinidadians and when our people are treated unjustly we are laid-back about it. Where are the efforts to get these people out from their captivity[?] Where is the Prime Minister? Where is the embassy? Where are the leaders of our Nation? Because I wear hijab that doesn’t make me a terrorist. I am a muslim born in Trinidad. That makes me a Trinidadian! We need help to get these men out of their present situation. THEY NEED OUR HELP!!!
Yesterday, members of the local Muslim community organized a peaceful demonstration outside of the Venezuelan embassy in Port-of-Spain in support of the detainees.
Facebook user Narisa Mohammed voiced her support for the protest:
I hope and pray both Muslims and non Muslims alike, turn out in their numbers in support of our brothers. I make dua for them and their families during this difficult time. May allah grant them relief and comfort very soon. I'm so very sorry to say; but our Muslim community need[s] to get up and stand out very hard, instead of sitting silently. I heard Zaa[‘s] voice yesterday, and it broke my heart to hear; with tears in his voice, he's begging and pleading for help…
Wake up Muslims come out and support
All I hearing is about the three imams W[h]at about all the rest of brothers eh
They have wives to [sic]
They have kids to [sic]
They have family to [sic]
They have friends to [sic]
Wake up Muslims
Come out support all my Muslims [sic] brothers that's [sic] lock[ed] up in Venezuela
Please say a prayer for our fellow Trinidadian muslims who are being wrongfully held captive in Venezuela under ‘suspicion’ of terrorism and are forced to spend so many days under horrible living conditions. They showed no kind of remorse for the women and children for 10 days, we can't even imagine how the men are being treated. Let us stand up and speak out for justice at this time when even our Prime Minister is silent. Join the page Free Our Brothers In Venezuela and for those who can make it, be part of the protest outside the Venezuelan embassy at 9am tomorrow. When authorities fail us we have to take a stand!
Journalist Aschah Gulston posted photographs of the protest on her Instagram account:
One digital activist started a Twitter account in support of the detainees:
Please continue to pray for the brothers who are wrongfully detained in Venezuela. Their is power in prayers. pic.twitter.com/nIrjAjHbLq
— Tahirah M (@freebrothers) April 1, 2014
A group of Muslims from Trinidad held for weeks in Venezuela, including women and children (who were only recently released after negotiations), none with known illegal/questionable conduct/ties. Accused of plotting to overthrow the Government on less than speculation, without a shred of evidence or reason beyond their Faith in the face of a Government considered by many to be Illegitimate. Our Brothers are still being held without due process or just cause. Who is the Terrorist here?
Meanwhile, website TerrorismWatch.org is reporting that members of the local Islamic Missionaries Guild is cautioning local Muslims to desist from any form of protest, in fear for the safety of the detained men:
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 [on April 4]. ‘This could potentially undo all the work that is being done by the T&T authorities with our assistance to have the imams freed.’