By BosNewsLife Africa Service
RABAT, MOROCCO (BosNewsLife)– A Moroccan Christian remained behind bars Wednesday, September 11, after he was jailed for two-and-a-half years and fined for evangelizing, trial observers said.
Mohamed el Baldi, 34, was reportedly ordered to pay 5000 dirhams ($600) for “shaking the faith of a Muslim” at the September 3 court hearing in the city of Taounat, some 284 kilometers (176 miles) outside the capital Rabat
El Baldi, from the town of Ain Aicha, near Fes, admitted friendship with two American Christians, who provided him with Christian materials, and confirmed that he attended Christian meetings in the cities of Meknes and Rabat.
Some of the gatherings were focused on new Christian converts, Moroccan media reported.
El Baldi, who converted to Christianity about seven years ago, also acknowledged that he and other missionaries use encrypted codes during phone calls amid concerns about eavesdropping by intelligence services in this heavily Islamic nation, local media said.
Propagating Christianity is prohibited under Article 220 of the Moroccan Penal Code, but Christians said el-Baldi was punished more severely than usual.
Under Moroccan legislation the maximum punishment for proselytizing is three-to-six months’ imprisonment and a fine of 200 to 500 dirhams, according to experts.
El Baldi isn’t the only Christian behind bars for evangelizing. 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.
Rights activists and Moroccan Christians have said that the severity of his sentence for a “misdemeanor” underscored Morocco’s attempt to put the 49-year-old Christian behind bars as long as possible “because he persistently spoke about his faith,” in Christ.
The sentences are part of a wider crackdown on missionaries and devoted Christians in the strict Islamic nation, Christians say.
In 2010, several foreign Christians were declared “a danger” to Morocco and expelled, including Christians caring for 33 Moroccan orphans at the ‘Village of Hope’ institute in the town of Ain Leuh, some 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of the country’s city of Fez.
“The government is led by an Islamic party and Islamic organizations have a growing influence”, said Open Doors, a major advocacy and aid group supporting “persecuted Christians”, in a recent assessment.
At least 99 percent of Morocco’s 33 million population is Muslim, while one percent is Christian or Jewish, according to Open Doors estimates.
Morocco is ranked 39th on the advocacy group’s annual World Watch List of 50 nations where it claims devoted Christians face severe persecution.
Many former Muslims-turned-Christians are believed to meet in ‘home churches’. Local and foreign missionaries preach secretly among Muslim-background believers.
It comes at a time when Christians have expressed concerns about the Supreme Ulema Council of Morocco (CSO), a body of Islamic scholars headed by King Mohammed VI, which said earlier this year that Muslims who reject their faith “should be condemned to death.”
CSO is the only institution entitled to issue ‘fatwas’, or religious decrees, in Morocco.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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