Seventh-day Adventist lawyers and human rights advocates are calling for the immediate release of an Adventist pastor imprisoned in Togo on what they say are spurious charges.
Antonio dos Anjos Monteiro was detained in March for conspiracy to commit murder after a Togolese man implicated him and two other Christians, one an Adventist, as conspirators in an alleged blood trafficking network.
The accuser had earlier confessed to the murder of some 20 young girls, claiming he worked for a criminal ring that trafficked human blood. The man had met Monteiro when the pastor previously ministered to him.
Monteiro, a native of Cape Verde, has served as the church’s Sabbath School and Personal Ministries director for the Sahel Union Mission, headquartered in Lome, Togo, since 2009.
Even though a police search of Monteiro’s home and local church headquarters failed to turn up evidence, local newspapers earlier this year published inflammatory photos depicting containers of blood alongside stories detailing the allegations against Monteiro.
“To say that Monteiro is innocent I think almost goes without saying,” said Todd McFarland, an associate general counsel in the Office of General Counsel at Adventist world church headquarters.
“The suggestion that an Adventist pastor would hire someone to murder young girls and then traffic their blood is bizarre, fanciful and false," he said.
Public pressure to solve last year’s string of murders, however, continues to thwart his release and exoneration, McFarland said. Prior to Monteiro’s arrest, human rights groups had accused Togolese police of not doing enough to solve the crimes.
In mid-September, church leaders met with government officials in Togo to expedite the case. The group included Gilbert Wari, president of the church’s West-Central Africa Division, which oversees Togo; John Graz, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty director for the Adventist world church; McFarland; and a lawyer from the church’s Sahel Union Mission.
“[The lawyer] is very hopeful. She said our visit created a strong impact on the government,” Wari said.
“At first we could see that the government thought they were just dealing with a small church in the corner, but now with this level of support and mobilization, they see that the Adventist Church is a worldwide church,” he said.
The Adventist Church's top international liaison is currently working with the ambassador of Togo to help secure Monterio’s release.
“The ambassador cordially welcomed me and promised to contact high level officials from the president’s cabinet to facilitate the release of Pastor Monteiro,” said Ganoune Diop, the church’s representative to the United Nations. Diop, who met with the ambassador in July, has since requested a follow-up meeting.
Graz said he wants governments to know that an innocent Seventh-day Adventist facing arbitrary detention is not alone.
“He has millions of brothers and sisters around the world ready to rally in support. We will do everything in our power to help get Monteiro released, and we are confident that justice will prevail.”
There are more than 5,300 Adventist church members in Togo, and close to 880,000 in the church’s West-Central Africa Division.
Monteiro, who was initially held in solitary confinement in jail for 14 days, has since been transferred to the Civil Prison of Lome, where pre-trial detainees such as himself are held together with convicted felons.
Despite deplorable prison conditions, Graz said Monteiro remains “optimistic and in good health.”
“We strongly believe that Monteiro is a modern-day Joseph,” Wari said, referencing a Biblical story in which an Old Testament figure is falsely imprisoned. “Everything seemed desperate and hopeless, but God was working and he was able to glorify his holy name through the crisis.”