A new video featuring the family of a Seventh-day Adventist pastor imprisoned in Togo was published on YouTube by the church’s world headquarters last week, the latest effort to obtain signatures petitioning the government for his release.
The move is part of ongoing diplomatic efforts to secure the release of Antonio Monteiro from detainment on unsupported charges, church leaders said.
Church leaders said they are hoping to obtain 1 million signatures to the petition, which will be brought to government officials.
The Adventist Church for the first time is showing the pictures of his wife and family to help church and community members worldwide understand the importance of signing the online petition, said Williams Costa Jr., Communication director for the Adventist world church.
“They are part of our family and we want people to understand how much they are suffering by missing a husband and father,” Costa said. “We’re asking all members and those who support justice to join the petition.”
The petition and the video are at the website pray4togo.com.
Monteiro has been in prison for more than one year. Togolese government officials last month rejected the Adventist Church’s fifth request for Monteiro’s release, according to a lawyer from the church’s Sahel Union Mission working closely on the case.
Monteiro was detained 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.
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, as well as ongoing diplomatic efforts.