By BosNewsLife Africa Service
RABAT, MOROCCO (BosNewsLife)– Nearly seven years into the prison sentence of the only Christian in Morocco known to be extensively detained for his faith, local Christians and activists have questioned the Muslim state’s harsh measure toward a man who dared to publicly speak about Jesus Christ.
Jamaa Ait Bakri, an outspoken Christian convert, was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in 2005 for “proselytizing” and destroying “the goods of others” after burning two defunct utility poles located in front of his private business in south Morocco.
Open Doors, an advocacy group investigating the case, quoted activists and Moroccan Christians as saying that the severity of his sentence for a “misdemeanor” underscores Morocco’s attempt to put the 48-year-old Christian behind bars as long as possible “because he persistently spoke about his faith.”
“He became a Christian and didn’t keep it to himself,” explained a Moroccan Christian and host for Arabic Christian television broadcaster Al Hayat Television in remarks distributed by Open Doors. “He shared it with people around him,” added the host, Rachid, who apparently only uses his first name for security reasons.
Prosecutors in the southwestern city of Agadir tried Bakrim for “destruction of the goods of others,” which trial observers say is punishable with up to 20 years in prison, and for proselytism under Article 220, which carries a jail term of up to three years.
He acknowledged his Christian faith during the trial, but denied accusations that he approached his neighbors to “undermine their Muslim faith,” according to Christians familiar with the situation.
Bakrim, who has a bachelor degree in political science, reportedly became a Christian in the 1990s while traveling in Europe. In 1993 he applied for political asylum in the Netherlands but was refused and expelled back to Morocco when his visa expired, according to activists involved in the case.
Returning to his village family members thought his conversion would not last, but he continued to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and in 1994 spent seven months in jail for ‘proselytizing’, Christians said.
He was also incarcerated at a mental hospital, although his supporters said he had no mental illness.
Two years later he was prosecuted for putting up a Christian cross in public and spent a further year in prison, Christians said.
After his release, Bakrim was rejected by his family and forced to move from his home village to the city of Massa, according to rights groups. He resisted pressure to convert back to Islam and was sentenced again.
By the end of December, Jamaa Ait Bakrim, 48, will have been behind bars for seven years, mainly at Morocco’s largest prison, Prison Centrale, in the northwestern city of Kenitra.
Though there have been other cases of Christians jailed for their faith, none of those sentences has been as long as Bakrim’s, Open Doors stressed in a statement to BosNewsLife. “They will just leave him in the prison so he dies spiritually and psychologically,” warned Rachid.
Morocco has been under international pressure to improve religious rights amid concerns over this and other cases as well as the expulsion in recent years of dozens of Christian missionaries, including aid workers helping orphans.
The government of this North African kingdom of over 32-million people has defended its policies. It says the targeted Christians “have violated” the Islamic country’s religious traditions and legislation “banning proselytizing”. (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).