Earlier this week Moroccan authorities informed an orphanage's staff that they had just hours to leave the country, forcing them to say goodbye to 33 children they'd cared for as parents. In February, police officers raided a home Bible study and detained Christians for 24 hours. The Moroccan government suddenly has toughened its stance on Christian foreigners, accusing them of proselytizing and expelling them from the country. Mission organizations say the persecution is unexpected.
While the exact number is still unknown, Bob Blincoe-U.S. director of the missionary organization Frontiers-said that up to 40 foreign Christians were reportedly expelled from the country. "We did not expect this," he said.
The Kingdom of Morocco is a Muslim country, and while it allows Christians to live openly, it does not allow them to proselytize. There have been a few isolated incidents of persecution over the years, but the king of Morocco, Mohammed VI, is receptive toward Americans and professes a message of human rights.
On Feb. 4, some 60 police officers raided a home Bible study in a village near Marrakech, reported Todd Nettleton, director of media development for Voice of the Martyrs. Police arrested everyone present and detained even infants in the group for 24 hours, interrogating the Christians about their religious activities. According to Nettleton, the government deported the one foreigner and let everyone else go, confiscating all Bibles, a laptop, a digital camera, and a cell phone. The police made it clear that this was not a local push. "This was coming down from the highest levels of government," Nettleton said.
A similar raid occurred in March 2009, when authorities entered a Christian apartment, expelling five foreigners and interrogating 12 others, reportedly mocking them for their Christian beliefs and confiscating their Bibles, books, cell phones, and computers. This week the persecution continued when police came to the Village of Hope orphanage to interview children and collect documentation, forcing the foreign-born staff to leave by Monday.
The Maghreb Arab Press, the state-controlled press agency, quoted government spokesman Khalid Naciri, who said the expelled staff were illegally proselytizing. He claimed that the orphanage was simply a charity front for missionaries to exploit poor people and innocent children for proselytization purposes.
Ironically, the U.S. State Department released Thursday its report on human rights in Morocco for 2009. The report said that voluntary conversion was allowed, that non-Muslims could practice their faith openly with "varying official restrictions," and that missionaries who followed "cultural norms worked largely unhindered." The government allowed the sale of Bibles, although not the distribution of Christian religious materials for proselytism. Nettleton points out that the line between practice and proselytism is blurry: "At what level does practice become proselytism? If you have a meeting in your house and you invite your neighbors, is that simply practicing your faith or is that proselytism?"
Blincoe called it an opportunity for the Moroccan government to fulfill its commitment to international human rights: "The Moroccan government right now is actually on trial."
Janine Bean, director of Compassion Corps, worked with the Village of Hope staff in Morocco and said the orphanage employed teachers, carpenters, and cooks from the surrounding community: "I can imagine that the Moroccan people there are devastated as well. They've come to love the Village of Hope family."