Fighting for Human Rights and Freedom of Speech Almost Caused His Death
Awarded a scholarship to study in England opened Julio’s eyes to the freedom others took for granted. He was shocked to hear people openly complain about laws, policies and people in positions of power. In his home country those who didn’t agree with the government were arrested, imprisoned and tortured. This open discussion awoke something inside of him and he knew he had to try to bring this feeling to his countrymen.
Julio knew the risks would be high if he acted, but he couldn’t stop dreaming of his country being home to newspapers and media outlets that were not controlled by the family and friends of this African nation’s president.
In 2016 Julio joined a political party condemning the human rights abuses and the detainment and killing of people who didn’t agree with the policies of the president. Julio’s work took him from street to street talking to anyone who would listen about human rights, their right to vote, freedom of speech and freedom of worship. Many of his countrymen shut the door on him or walked away – afraid of being imprisoned and tortured if found listening.
Word quickly reached the president that this group was gaining traction. The president quickly issued an order making anyone in the group an enemy of the state.
The countries elections were less than a month away, Julio was using every waking moment to educate, inspire and encourage voting. One day, during his talks he was arrested. He was held for two weeks and tortured. Finally, his family was told they could pay $3,000 for his freedom. They did and Julio went right back to urging everyone he could to vote.
In what most considered a miracle, one seat out of the 100 was overturned and awarded to someone who supported human rights! It was the first time since 1979 that an opposition party won a seat. The president was furious and considered the win a challenge to his authority.
Less than a month later the military took over the human rights party headquarters, shot people who tried to escape and injured many. Julio was arrested again, tortured for three days and released for $2,000. Many of his friends and human rights activists are still missing because their families couldn’t afford to pay. Julio prays they have died because living with the daily torture is unthinkable.
Feeling his threats, torture and imprisonment of human rights activists hadn’t stopped the movement enough, the president ordered the movement dissolved and sentenced all members to 30 years in jail. Rounding up all the human rights activists became a priority for the country’s military and police. Members of his military and police were looking for us everywhere.
One day Julio received a call from a friend who told him he must leave the country immediately. His heart sunk. His mind knew this day was coming but his heart was living in denial. Julio took his children to a previously planned safe place to be cared for by someone he trusted. He left within hours on a plane for a country that didn’t require him to have a visa.
Julio waited there for eight long days. He needed to be sure his children were safe and were not taken as a way to get to him. He was prepared to get to him – prepared to trade his life for the lives of this children. Thankfully, that wasn’t God’s plan.
Julio finally received his visa to travel to the United States. Once here he knew he only had so long before he had to apply for asylum. He was scared, scared that his government would somehow find out. A friend told him about the amazing work San Antonio Region Justice For Our Neighbors does for immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers. His meeting was what he expected – he was told to be prepared for a long fight. The SARJFON legal team explained to Julio that in cases like his United States Citizenship and Immigration Services traditionally doesn’t act, but instead refers the request to immigration court.
Prepared to wait, Julio jumped with joy as he received news that his asylum request had been fully granted – just four months after his paperwork was filed. With laughter in his voice Julio said many of his friends questioned why his lawyers asked for so many documents, for pictures and proof of what he was saying. Now, Julio knows why. Julio says the SARJFON legal team went the extra mile to show and not just tell Citizenship and Immigration Services why he deserved asylum. With a tear in his eye and his voice catching, Julio told the SARJFON legal team he owes his freedom and his life to them.
This is why our lawyers work so hard for our clients. But, without you, our financial supporters, we couldn’t afford to have attorney’s fighting daily. As we told Julio, strangers whom he has never met donated for his case to be possible. Strangers believed in him, even though they didn’t know him. Strangers have given Julio hope for a future that includes freedom of speech and human rights. You, our supporter made Julio’s dream of living in a free country a reality.