9/12/2013 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned of the arrest and conviction of Mohamed El Baladi in the town of Ain Aicha, Morocco. On Monday, September 2nd, Mohamed was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison and a fine of 5000 dirham ($600 USD) for the crimes of evangelism and shaking the faith of a Muslim. Also, as a part of the judge’s ruling, arrest warrants were issued for individuals connected with Mohamed. An appeal of the conviction has been filed in this case calling for it to be overturned and the complete ruling of the judge to be thrown out.
A lawyer has been secured to handle the appeal and take up the defense of Mohamed, according to an ICC contact in the region. Following the conviction, there was a time period of ten days in which an appeal could be filed. The appeal is asking for the case to be moved to the larger city of Fes “because in the first city of Taounate the local authorities control everything, that’s not the same in Fes,” he reported.
Mohamed was arrested on Wednesday, August 28th, in the city of Ain Aicha in the Taounate region (approximately 170 miles from Rabat). Mohamed, age 34, is a convert from a Muslim family. He was arrested after government agents followed his movements for some time. Following a raid on his house, Mohamed was arrested and approximately 30 Christian books, CDs, and other material were seized. According to a report from local Moroccan media, the governor of Ain Aicha conducted a recorded interrogation of Mohamed during which he confessed his beliefs and connections to Christians throughout the country. Since his imprisonment there have been reports that he has been physically abused. The Morocco Association of Human Rights issued a statement citing the laws that were violated in the arrest of Mohamed and reported that prison authorities had spread false rumors to incite prisoners to abuse Mohamed.
The conviction of Mohamed simply as a result of his faith has spread fear throughout the Moroccan Christian community. With the judge also issuing arrest warrants for people connected to him, the possibility of additional arrests seems likely. “In truth, we do not know what the government is preparing right now,” a Moroccan believer wrote to ICC. “We don’t know if they really want to bring all of the Christian Moroccans to jail. We do not know if we will have the opportunity to write more e-mails in the days to come since if this news is true, we too may be in prison.”
Morocco has been recognized in the past as being largely respectful of religious freedoms. As Morocco World News reported, the 2012 International Religious Freedom report praised “Morocco for its constitutional, legal and political protection of religious freedom. ‘The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom’ in Morocco, said the report which noted that religious minorities in Morocco enjoy the full right to practise their religious rituals without intervention, persecution or abuse.”
While compared to many surrounding countries Morocco does have a respect for religious freedom, there are certainly troubling signs for the small Christian minority. Since 2005, Jamma Ait Bakrim, who ICC previously advocated for, has been in prison. In 2010, a number of foreigners were expelled from the country and forced to abandon projects including an orphanage. In 2012, three Christians were arrested and the police attempted to link them to others. Finally, this past spring, a fatwa was issued by Morocco’s highest religious authority calling for the death penalty for converts from Islam. Taken together, these events raise major concerns about the future of Christianity in Morocco.
Todd Daniels, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “The arrest and conviction of Mohamed El Baladi is a direct violation of basic rights of religious freedoms. We urge the government of Morocco to immediately release Mohamed from prison. The protection of the right to religious freedom for all Moroccan citizens leads to the flourishing of society. We call on the Moroccan government and human rights organizations to fully investigate the illegal activities and abuses that have been directed towards the Christian community.”
For interviews, contact Todd Daniels, Regional Manager for the Middle East: RM-ME@persecution.org
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