The family of a Moroccan Christian on trial was shocked and touched to see 11 human rights lawyers at his appeal hearing on Oct. 10 in Fez, Morocco. The attorneys, all members of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, persuaded the judge to defer the case until late December, according to Moroccan news outlet Yabiladi.
Moroccan authorities arrested Mohamed El Baladi, a Christian convert from Islam, in late August and charged him with proselytizing and “shaking the faith of a Muslim.” In an unusually quick trial, he was convicted within a week and sentence to a 30-month prison term before he even had legal counsel, according toMorning Star News. Later he was released from prison pending his appeal, which was moved from Taounate to Fez.
Todd Daniels, International Christian Concern’s regional manager for the Middle East, said El Baladi’s family is thrilled by the support from Moroccan human rights groups, adding that El Baladi remains free for the moment.
While in prison, El Baladi told a relative he was set up for arrest by an uncle angry over an inheritance dispute, Daniels said. The uncle found two underaged Muslims to approach him and express an interest in Jesus. Following a second conversation with the young men, El Baladi was arrested, his home raided, and Christian literature confiscated.
In prison, officials allegedly pressured El Baladi to share the names of other Christians who had supplied him with literature. This caused fear among Moroccan Christians about a wider crackdown on the tiny religious minority. In 2012, Morocco had about 8,000 Christians out of a population of nearly 35 million, according to Morning Star News.
El Baladi’s sudden arrest and conviction startled Christians in the country, since they hadn’t faced much persecution since 2010, when the government expelled 16 foreign Christians associated with the Village of Hope orphanage, including the house parents, and persecuted Moroccans.
Although Moroccans have more religious freedom than in other North African countries, authorities carefully monitor Christians in the country and forbid proselytizing. They track Christians’ movements and try to determine their connections and the sources of Christian materials, Daniels said.
“They have on various occasions taken Christians to prison and held them without charges and subjected them to intense interrogation and psychological pressure to extract more information from them about the Moroccan church,” Daniels said. “These detentions have also occasionally included physical beatings.”
Daniels believes the effective pressure from the human rights lawyers shows the importance of monitoring religious freedom: “The Moroccan government is sensitive about their international reputation, and so when they see that imprisoning someone simply because of their faith produces a response among the international media and draws government attention, it encourages them to allow for greater religious freedoms.”