TIZI OZOU, Algeria (Morning Star News) – A Moroccan court yesterday postponed until Dec. 31 an appeals hearing for a convert hastily sentenced to prison for alleged “proselytizing,” in hopes that international publicity over his conviction will subside by then, Christian sources said.
Mohamed El Baladi was sentenced to 30 months in prison on Sept. 3, just a week after his arrest on Aug. 28, in a court in the northern town of Taounate, 50 miles from Fez. The court convicted him before police allowed him to obtain legal representation, and officers vilified him for leaving Islam and pressured him to reveal names of other converts to Christianity, sources said (see Morning Star News, Sept. 13).
Police also incited other inmates and guards in prison to beat him by pointing out that he had left Islam and spreading false rumors about him, they said.
“He was beaten by other inmates because of his faith,” a source said. “Fearing for his life, the prison administration finally placed him in a single cell. Remember that for Muslims, when one of them leaves Islam, it is punishable by death.”
Following international publicity over the case in the remote town of 33,000, authorities on Sept. 26 made the unusual decision to release him from prison until his appeal hearing, which had been scheduled for yesterday (Oct. 10).
At press time, he remained free until his new hearing date of Dec. 31, sources said.
El Baladi, 31, was charged with inducing young Muslims to convert, punishable by six months to three years in prison and a fine of up to 500 dirhams (US$60), according to Article 220 of Morocco’s penal code. El Baladi’s fine of 1,500 dirhams exceeded the maximum, and police also took 5,000 dirhams from his home during the raid, a source said.
Sources confirmed a report by International Christian Concern that El Baladi was set up by an uncle with whom he had a dispute. The uncle hired two teenage boys to feign interest in Christianity, and police were on hand to arrest him for proselytizing minors when he met with them a second time.
His family in the village of Ain Aicha strongly opposed his conversion and endured severe discrimination because of it, sources told Morning Star News.
While apostasy is not illegal in Morocco, the prosecutor and law enforcement officials reviled El Baladi for leaving Islam to become a Christian, sources said. Strict sharia (Islamic law) condemns apostates from Islam to death.
A representative of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights has called El Baladi’s conviction and sentencing a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Algeria is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which implements provisions of the UDHR.
Along with the 5,000 dirhams police stole, gendarmerie also seized several Christian CDs, books and magazines, sources said.
The West has generally applauded Morocco’s new constitution of 2011, which provides for a fair trial and presumption of innocence until proven guilty for those accused of breaking the law.
While police monitoring and harassment of Christians is common in Morocco, El Baladi’s case comes as Christians have become increasingly unsettled by persecution and violations of religious freedom. Morocco’s King Mohammed VI is seen as a moderate, but Islam is the official religion of the state, and the king’s titles include “The Defender of the Faithful.” Christians are also suspicious as his government shares power in a coalition that includes the Justice and Development Party, considered to have links with the Muslim Brotherhood; the party calls for a society governed by Islam.
On Dec. 28, 2005, Christian convert Jamaa Ait Bakrim was sentenced to 15 years in prison for proselytism and for destroying the goods of others by burning two abandoned telephone poles touching his property. In March 2010, the government expelled at least 33 Christian foreign residents from the country. Among them were 10 adult Christians, along with their children, who were running The Village of Hope, a foster daycare center for orphans. The foster children were turned over to the care of people they did not know.
In addition to the expulsions, roughly 81 people were declared “persona non grata” for alleged proselytizing.
There are about 8,000 Moroccan Christians out of a population of almost 35 million people, according to the 2012 International Religious Freedom Report of the U.S. Department of State.
c. 2013 Morning Star News. Used with permission.
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Publication date: October 11, 2013