The night António Monteiro was arrested, his boss, Sahel Union Mission President Guy Roger, took some colleagues to police headquarters to find out why. To their surprise, they were arrested, their keys were confiscated and their cars were impounded. No reason was given.
They were released two hours later, and Roger the next morning sought a lawyer’s help. Monteiro had been charged with murder, conspiracy and criminal association.
“We’ve been living in a real nightmare,” Roger wrote in an email to Yovo Sika Adjete, the Sahel Union’s legal advisor. “We were told only that he [Monteiro] had been arrested following an investigation and that our short custody was also part of this investigation.
“I appeal to you to try to discover the reasons for the detention,” Roger wrote.
So began the attempts to get Monteiro out of prison. The process has now continued for nearly 500 days.
Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders and national ambassadors have employed diplomatic efforts in Togo, throughout Europe and at the United Nations in New York. Local lawyers have attempted numerous legal appeals. Yet Monteiro, who came to Togo from Cape Verde to serve as a Christian missionary, remains in prison. Three other Adventist Church members are in prison with him, as well as a third person who volunteered information to the police that might help free them.
The next day, on March 16, 2012, Roger learned that Adventist Church member Bruno Amah had also been arrested in connection with the case. Both Monteiro and Amah had tried to previously assist a man named Simliya, who suffered a history of mental instability, according to a court medical exam.
In the coming days, Roger would alert colleagues at the Adventist Church’s West-Central Africa Division in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, and at the denomination’s world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States. He also wrote to Cape Verde’s closest embassy, in Dakar, Senegal.
Roger declared two days of fasting and prayer in the union starting Thursday, March 22.
For several months, the Adventist Church chose to keep legal appeals and diplomatic efforts out of the public media.
“At the time, we chose that tactic out of respect for the government’s process and safety of church members in the country,” said John Graz, the denomination’s director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty.
Monteiro’s lawyer, Yawa Sika Yovo, said she asked a judge on March 28, 2012, to dismiss the case. Her request was met with silence, she said.
She, along with Amah’s lawyer, Afoh Katakiti, went to the Ministry of Justice on June 21. The minister, she said, promised to view the dossier. Nothing happened, and they took the case to the Lomé Court of Appeals.
By July 6 of that year, the court handed down a decision, which said in part, “There is no basis on documents proving his innocence. He must still be detained.”
Yovo worked on further appeals to no avail. Outraged, on August 7, nearly five months since Monteiro and Amah’s arrests, she wrote to Togo President Faure Gnassingbé: “This scandalous decision is a grave injustice and inadmissible, as our clients are innocent since there is no proof showing that they’re guilty.”
Earlier that summer, Ganoune Diop, the Adventist Church’s United Nations liaison, met with Togo’s UN Ambassador Menan Kodjo on July 25. Kodjo said he would look into the case, Diop said. In a follow-up letter to Kodjo, Diop thanked him for his work on the matter, and emphasized that the Adventist world church wanted to respect the government’s procedures: “It is not in our interest to put before the international community of experts the judicial system of the country your Excellency ably represents.”
In September, the presidents of Togo and Cape Verde talked about the case on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly meeting, according to a July 9, 2013, posting on the Facebook page of the president of Cape Verde.
"I tried to interest him to the problem,” stated Cape Verde President Jorge Carlos Fonseca regarding his meeting with Togo President Faure Gnassingbé. “I told him that I did not want to interfere in the matter of Togolese justice, but that the Cape Verdean public is interested in the problem. So I told him that we would like that all that follows to be in an environment in which the security of defense was assured.”
On September 5 of 2012, a duo from the church’s headquarters flew to Togo. Graz, the public affairs director, and Associate General Counsel Todd McFarland met with Yovo and visited Monteiro and Amah in prison. They also read the newly released court-ordered medical report from Dr. Tchangai Tchatcha, who stated that Monteiro’s accuser had a history of mental instability and had only given the police names of supposed co-conspirators after being beaten while in custody. The report offered a glimmer of hope.
“I thought for sure he would have been out by the time Ted Wilson was scheduled to come visit,” McFarland later said, referring to the Adventist world church president, who would visit Monteiro in prison on November 12.
The church also worked through a representative of the International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty in Europe, who met with Togolese officials at the United Nations Office at Geneva, Switzerland, and with other officials at the European Union in Brussels, Belgium.
Still, nothing happened, despite diplomatic efforts throughout the summer and into the early autumn.
The Adventist Church then decided to go public with the matter. ANN released its first story about the situation on September 27.
On November 20, a working group for the case was formed at the world headquarters. The same day, Adventist world church President Ted N. C. Wilson called for an international day of prayer on December 1.
“These are falsely accused, innocent church members and we are pleading with the Lord for his intervention so that they can be reunited with their families and continue their work,” Wilson said.
On November 29, Roger, the Sahel Union Mission president, held a press conference in Lomé, amplifying the worldwide day of prayer campaign.
The men are “deprived of their liberty and detained in the civil prison in Lomé without proof of guilt, without any evidence or indication of their close or distant relationship with this case,” Roger told a group of reporters. “The Adventist Church cannot remain silent in what seems to be a gross miscarriage of justice.”
On December 1, tens of thousands of Adventist churches worldwide took time during Sabbath worship services to pray for Monteiro and others in prison. Some, including the Montemorelos University Church in Mexico, prayed for more than an hour during Sabbath worship.
By then, more than 7 million Twitter users had been reached with the campaign’s hashtag #Pray4togo and some 15,000 people had signed an online petition at Change.org.
The church sponsored a Christmas card campaign in a show of support. Monteiro received more than 1,000 cards, church leaders said.
At the beginning of the New Year, a development occurred that appeared to offer the promise of a January 29 trial date. It was later rescinded.
Diop, the church’s UN liaison, went to Togo in February and met with Togo’s prime minister. During a morning meeting, Diop said Prime Minister Kwesi Ahoomey-Zunu called the minister of justice and asked if he could receive Diop later that day. At 5 p.m., Diop was received by Minister of Justice Kokou Tozoun. “He gave us his word that this case was going to be settled before the end of March,” Diop recalled.
“I told the Minister of Justice and the Prime Minister that we’re not trying to bend the Togolese judicial system or ask for a favor,” Diop recalled. “We were trying to ask that this case be resolved because it was a case of arbitrary detention.”
On April 18, the Adventist Church released video footage of Monteiro’s family, urging more people to sign the online petition.
In March, church leaders announced that a fifth legal appeal for Monteiro’s release had been denied.