Baptist World Alliance officials joined the National Baptist Convention of Venezuela in calling for the release of a Venezuelan Baptist youth leader who has been jailed since Jan. 23.
Gregory Pérez, who works in a volunteer capacity as executive secretary of the National Baptist Youth Union, was detained when the state police rounded up people—including children ages 12 to 14—suspected of participating in a public protest in San Felipe.
More than 30 apprehended individuals were accused of criminal conspiracy, terrorism, use of explosives, obstruction of public roads and resisting arrest.
“Our brother in the faith is not a criminal or a terrorist, nor did he even participate in the demonstration that took place on that day,” according to a statement issued by the National Baptist Convention of Venezuela.
In their public statement, Venezuelan Baptists assert Pérez was at a communications center responding to emails when the demonstration began outside. When the owner of the business asked all his customers to leave, Pérez sought shelter in the nearby home of friends but was captured and taken into custody by the state police.
Pérez appeared before a judge Jan. 31. His chosen attorney is Yaneira Darlin Diaz, identified by the Venezuelan Baptists as “a sister in the faith,” but the court mandated that he be represented by a public defender.
‘Excessive and disproportionate restriction’
“Brother Pérez has dedicated his life to serving others, most especially the children and youth of Venezuela. Baptists across the region testify to the positive contributions he offers on a daily basis, from his service as an engineer to his work with young people,” said BWA General Secretary Elijah Brown.
“Yet since his arrest, Brother Pérez has been held in detention, publicly humiliated, charged with a lengthy set of allegations and treated as a terrorist. He and his family have suffered. This constitutes an excessive and disproportionate restriction on his right to freedom.”
The National Baptist Convention of Venezuela called on officials to release Pérez and demanded respect for due process for all those who were detained. In their public statement, the Venezuelan Baptists cited Articles 31 and 53 of the nation’s constitution that allow for public assembly and guarantee citizens’ right to participate freely in public affairs.
Brown and Parrish Jacome, general secretary of the Union of Baptists in Latin America, wrote and distributed a letter to the governor of Yaracuy State in Venezuela, urging authorities to honor human rights and legal rights and requesting that charges against Pérez—and others arbitrarily arrested alongside him—be dismissed. They also urged authorities to allow Pérez to be represented by his chosen attorney rather than by a public defender.
“As a signatory of numerous human rights treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Venezuela has committed itself to maintaining high standards of judicial integrity, transparency, evidence-based judicial decisions and the upholding of human rights. We will be watching with trust that Venezuela will uphold these commitments in the case of Brother Pérez,” the letter states.
The BWA also is seeking to mobilize an international response through contacts at the United Nations and the U.S. Congress.
BWA leaders also urged Baptists globally to pray not only for Pérez, but also for all the people of Venezuela.
“At this particular moment in the life of Venezuela, the BWA and Baptists around the world stand in prayer for the peace and well-being of the country,” Brown said.
BWA supports ministries in region
BWA is working with a half-dozen member organizations in Latin America to respond to the massive refugee crisis sparked by turmoil and an economic meltdown in Venezuela. In November, the United Nations reported the number of refugees and migrants from Venezuela reached 3 million.
BWA made available $5,000 emergency grants to the Argentine Baptist Association, Evangelical Baptist Convention of Argentina, Brazilian Baptist Convention Home Mission Board, Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Chile, Colombian Baptist Denomination and National Baptist Convention of Texas. Each of those organizations either is helping Venezuelans who have been displaced or who remain in their country and need assistance.
“The Brazilian Baptist Convention Home Mission Board has a program in Boa Vista, which is where many Venezuelan refugees enter Brazil, that provides washing machines, restrooms, haircuts, dentist, psychologist and assistance with completing the documents to stay legally in Brazil,” Brown said.
The Brazilian Baptist mission board also sponsors a project called “My Homeland” to help resettle Venezuelan refugees, he noted. Working in cooperation with the United Nations and the Brazilian government, My Homeland flies selected refugees from Boa Vista to Sao Paulo, where a Baptist church welcomes them and provides them with a home, offers Portuguese lessons and helps them locate a job. From September to December last year, My Homeland worked with 49 Venezuelan refugees—all of them now employed.
Brown encouraged Baptists worldwide to:
- Pray for the release and exoneration of Pérez and those who were arrested with him, and pray for Venezuela as a whole.
- Write a letter to the governor of Yaracuy in Venezuela, Lcdo. Julio César Leon Heredia, at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a letter of advocacy to BWA@bwanet.org, and the BWA will forward it to the relevant offices in Venezuela.
- Call for prayer and action on behalf of Pérez on social media using the hashtag #LiberenaGregory.
- Donate to BWA to support its endeavors in Venezuela by clicking here.