A Moroccan Christian man jailed for evangelism has been temporarily released after serving one month.
Mohamed el Baldi, 34, from the town of Aïn Aïcha, near Fes, was given two-and-a-half years in prison, and ordered to pay 5000 dirhams ($600) for “shaking the faith of a Muslim”, at a court hearing on September 3.
El Baldi was informed of his release during a brief appearance before the Court of Appeal in Fes, on September 26.
The Moroccan Association for Defence of Human Rights (AMDH) is delighted with this “unexpected” release as his appeal hearing is planned for October 10. It understands that any formal release is pending the outcome on that date.
Mohamed Oulad Ayad, the president of AMDH in Fes, told World Watch Monitor in a telephone interview: “National and international pressures have finally paid off. The procedure which led to this sentence was tainted with irregularities. Additionally, the accusers were not present at the court hearing.”
El Baldi was arrested after his house was raided on August 28 and items linked to his faith, such as his Bible, were confiscated. He was arrested and convicted within little more than a week.
His family had then appealed his conviction, with the support of human rights organisations and lawyers.
The harsh 30-month prison sentence has raised strong mobilisation across the world. An online petition, addressed to King Mohamed VI, to request his release had been launched.
AMDH also denounced the “degrading” and “humiliating” treatment inflicted by security forces on Baldi, whose hands, he says, were un-necessarily tied at his arrest. El Baldi was also ill-treated in jail.
“From the first day of his incarceration the young man was beaten by other inmates because of his religion” reported Ayad. ”Who informed them that he converted to Christianity?”
The family of El Baldi, who lives in the village of Aïn Aïcha was not also spared: they suffered discrimination by residents, AMDH reports.
“They live in isolation and there are few people who approach them. This is another form of ‘violation’ that shows that Moroccan society does not recognise other religions”, noted Ayad.
“It raises a further problem that threatens the entire Moroccan society. We are witnessing the rise of a culture of intolerance conveyed by Islamists.”
The president of AMDH in Fes urges the authorities to take their responsibilities seriously by protecting the rights of every Moroccan. “I recommend also the separation of religion from politics as a way to fight the growing intolerance in the country,” he said.
Since 2011, the Moroccan government has been led by the moderate Islamist Party for Justice and Democracy (PJD). It came to power after winning parliamentary elections after a general referendum on a reformed Constitution which the King proposed to placate ‘Arab Spring’ protests.
Morocco is a monarchy of almost 33 million people and Islam is considered the religion of the Kingdom. King Mohammed VI holds the title of “Prince of the believers”.
Any attempt to induce a Muslim to convert is illegal. According to Article 220 of the Penal Code, any attempt to stop one or more persons from the exercise of their religious beliefs or from attendance at religious services is unlawful and may be punished by three-to-six months’ imprisonment and a fine of 200 to 500 dirhams.
The Article applies the same penalty to anyone who employs incitements to “shake the faith of a Muslim” or to convert him to another religion.
On Apr. 16, the government’s High Council of Ulemas, the highest religious authority in Morocco, issued a fatwa that was published in the national Arabic-language daily Akhbar al-Youm, stating that Muslims who reject their faith should be “condemned to death”. The publication of that fatwa has raised questions about its possible outcomes, particularly among Christian converts.
Morocco is ranked 39th in Open Doors International’s World Watch List, which reports on countries where it is difficult to practise Christianity.