|Cabinet ministers Winston Dookeran, Nizam Baksh, Rudranath Indarsingh and Roodal Moonilal met on Friday with relatives of the eight Muslim men being held in Venezuela (Guardian photo)|
Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran on Friday confirmed to relatives of eight men detained in Venezuela that Trinidad and Tobago has appealed a decision by the Venezuelans to hold the men without bail. He said he expects the appeal to be heard within the next two weeks.
Venezuelan authorities arrested the men along with more than a dozen women and children on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government and on terrorism charges. The 23 persons detained in Caracas had gone to Venezuela to obtain visas to visit Saudi Arabia. A T&T mission went to Venezuela and secured the release of 15 women and children, all of whom have since returned to T&T.
Dookeran confirmed that the T&T embassy is working with legal counsel and an appeal to this ruling has been lodged. He added, "The matter is still under the investigatory process."
Dookeran acknowledged that the matter has caused "much anguish in our society" and added that empathises with the persons who have been affected. "However, in our relations with other states including Venezuela, while making representations on behalf of our citizens, we must also abide by the laws of that state. I assure you that all diplomatic efforts are being made and we will continue to provide support for citizens who in their lawful pursuits are affected by these developments," the minister added.
He also stated that the government has put measures in place for T&T nationals to apply for Saudi Arabian visas at home. Saudi Arabia and Trinidad and Tobago have had formal diplomatic relations since 1974 but there is no resident Saudi ambassador.
Muslims going to Hajj and others wanting to visit Saudi Arabia usually travel to caracas to make visa applications. However the People's Partnership government has been facilitating nationals by getting Saudi authorities to come to Port of Spain to deal with visa applications.
Dookeran told Parliament, "It’s anticipated for Hajj 2014 the Saudi Arabian government will again send immigration officers to T&T to process visa applications. As soon as the dates are confirmed we’ll inform the public accordingly."