Christian Tentatively Released from Moroccan Prison

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

9/27/2013 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has recently learned Mohamed El Baladi has been released from the Moroccan prison where he was held after being sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for the crimes of evangelism and shaking the faith of a Muslim. Mohamed had been held in prison since his arrest in late August, a troubling development as Christians have not served jail time on purely religious charges in some time. The release is only until his official appeal hearing, scheduled for October 10th. The release is a surprising turn of events, since Mohamed has already been convicted of the crimes it is highly unusual for a convicted “criminal” to be released while waiting for an appeal.

ICC learned from contacts in Morocco that on Thursday, September 26th, Mohamed was summoned to a surprise hearing. His family only learned of it when his sister went to the prison to visit him and deliver groceries, only to be told that he was in court for a hearing. It was learned later that afternoon that he was released from prison and his appeal will be heard in early October.

As he spoke with family and friends, he confirmed that he faced severe abuse and pressure to recant his faith and return to Islam. As previously reported by ICC, the police attempted to force Mohamed to share the names of other Christians, both Moroccan and foreigners, who he was connected to, and spread false rumors to incite prisoners to further abuse him. The Moroccan government is known to closely monitor the activities of the Christian community, and the pressure applied to Mohamed raised fears among some local believers that a large-scale crackdown may be forthcoming.

Based upon reports from friends who have spoken with Mohamed, it is believed his family was upset at his conversion to Christianity and had pressured for a harsher sentence to prompt him to recant from his faith. They told ICC that he was set up by an uncle with whom he had a dispute over an inheritance. The uncle reportedly hired two 16-year-old boys to speak with Mohamed and express interest in Christianity. They requested to meet with him a second time and receive Bibles. When Mohamed met them the police had been notified and arrested him for proselytizing children under the age of 18. The boys also claimed that he had attempted to bribe them to convert, which is viewed even more harshly by the law. These details match a report from Morning Star News which reported, “El Baladi was charged with proselytizing young Muslims. Article 220 of Morocco’s penal code states that those inducing a Muslim to convert may be punished by six months to three years in prison.

The detention and conviction of Mohamed within the space of one week sent shock-waves of fear through the Moroccan Christian community because the government has generally been tolerant of the Christian community. The case was originally handled in a local court, but Mohamed has since been moved to the larger jurisdiction of Fez. There have been issues of police harassment and other arrests, or expulsions of foreign Christians. The case of Mohamed is especially worrisome because it is a break in practice and has sparked fears it may be a sign of more to come.

It certainly is a welcome sign that the court has chosen to release Mohamed, removing him from a situation where he was facing harsh physical abuse both from prison guards and fellow inmates. The court system appears to be allowing the appeal process to move forward, and it appears that Mohamed’s case will be judged on merits and not subject to pressure by family with a vendetta against him due to his faith.

Todd Daniels, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “We are encouraged to hear of the positive developments in the case of Mohamed El Baladi. We encourage the Kingdom of Morocco to continue on a path that protects the rights of its citizens and promotes rule of law, a path it has been on for some time. The attention given to Mohamed’s case by international human rights organizations and the United States government is important to promoting religious freedom as a fundamental freedom. We will continue to monitor Mohamed’s case as it moves through the court system and we hope towards a just verdict.”  

For interviews, contact Todd Daniels, Regional Manager for the Middle East: RM-ME@persecution.org

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