Surprise Release of Moroccan Christian Evangelist

October 9, 2013 by Open Doors in General

New Life Church in Fes, Morocco.

At a September 3 court hearing, Mohamed el Baldi, 34, from the town of A Aha, near Fes, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison, and ordered to pay 5000 dirhams ($600) for “shaking the faith of a Muslim.” Then, in a shocking move, the Court of Appeals in Fes informed El Baldi of his release during a brief appearance on September 26. The Moroccan Association for Defense of Human Rights (AMDH) is delighted with this “unexpected” temporary release prior to his court hearing to appeal the sentence. His formal release is pending.

Mohamed Oulad Ayad, the president of AMDH in Fes, told World Watch Monitor, “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 convicted within a week of his arrest. His family immediately appealed his conviction with the support of human rights organizations and lawyers.

The harsh 30-month prison sentence has provoked a strong reaction around the world. An online petition, addressed to King Mohamed VI, was launched to request his release. AMDH also denounced the “degrading” and “humiliating” treatment inflicted by security forces on Baldi, whose hands, he says, were unnecessarily tied at his arrest. El Baldi has also experienced ill treatment 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?”

Members of El Baldi’s family, also A Aha residents, have suffered discrimination as well, 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 recognize 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 urged 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). In Morocco, a monarchy of almost 33 million people, 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. Any attempt to stop one or more persons from the exercise of their religious beliefs or from attendance at religious services is also unlawful and may be punished by three-to-six months in prison 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 ramifications, particularly for Christian converts.

Morocco is ranked 39th in Open Doors International’s World Watch List, which reports on countries where it is difficult to practice Christianity.

Source:World Watch Monitor

Thank You, Father, for the temporary release of Mohamed el Baldi pending his new trial. We have not heard the outcome of that trial, but take confidence that regardless his circumstances, You are with him. We pray for freedom and justice to come to Morocco, for the fatwa to be lifted, and Your gospel go forth in power. And we consider Muslims who live in earthly freedom but remain in spiritual bondage, praying that You will use the testimony of el Baldi and other Christians, the testimony of Christ in them, to draw many into saving faith. In the name of Jesus, our refuge and strength, Amen.

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