A year after Seventh-day Adventist Pastor Antonio Monteiro was imprisoned in Togo on unsupported charges, church lawyers and human rights activists are redoubling efforts to secure his release.
Togolese government officials this week rejected the Adventist Church’s fifth request for Monteiro’s immediate release, according to a lawyer from the church’s Sahel Union Mission working closely on the case.
“Tomorrow is the sad anniversary of the unjust arrest of Pastor Monteiro. We are disappointed that our request has once again been refused, despite our ongoing efforts,” said Guy Roger, president of the Sahel Union Mission.
Roger, who met with Monteiro in prison on March 13, said the pastor is well and “by God’s grace, expecting a miracle.”
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 criminal ring that trafficked human blood. The witness had earlier confessed to the murder of some 20 young girls, claiming he was only carrying out orders.
However, the witness has a documented history of mental instability and his statement is widely considered unreliable, a representative from the National Commission of Human Rights in Togo said.
Evidence and testimony additionally suggest that the statement implicating Monteiro was obtained under duress.
Church leaders said the witness met Monteiro when the pastor previously ministered to him.
A native of Cape Verde, Monteiro had since 2009 served as the church’s Sabbath School and Personal Ministries director for the Sahel Union Mission, headquartered in Lomé. A police search of Monteiro’s home and local church headquarters shortly after his arrest failed to produce any evidence of his connection to the case.
Public pressure to solve the string of murders last year likely thwarted his release and exoneration, church officials said. Prior to Monteiro’s arrest, human rights groups and a local women’s coalition accused Togolese police of not doing enough to solve the crimes.
Adventist Church leaders said they are planning a major campaign for April focusing on collecting signatures for a petition and sending letters to officials in Togo demanding an end to Monteiro’s arbitrary detention and calling for the arrest of those guilty of the crimes.
Previous appeals coordinated by the church have included the mailing of hundreds of Christmas cards to Monteiro, a worldwide day of prayer and a press conference in Lomé. A second press conference is expected shortly, Roger said.
Adventist religious liberty leaders said they plan to actively involve young people in efforts to release Monteiro. At several recent petition-signing events in the U.S. state of California, college students stood in line to show their support for Monteiro.
John Graz, director of the Adventist world church’s department of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty, said public appeals will intensify in the coming months, a strategy to parallel behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts to secure Monteiro’s release.
“We are asking all Adventists, all Christians and all people who believe in justice to join in this campaign,” Graz said.