Hastily convicted Mohamed El Baladi received 30-month prison term. By Our Algeria Correspondent
TIZI OZOU, Algeria, December 27, 2013 (Morning Star News) – A Moroccan appeals court on Thursday (Dec. 26) heard arguments for a Christian convert from Islam hastily sentenced to prison for alleged “proselytizing,” sources said.
The Court of Appeal in Fez is expected to deliver a ruling on Feb. 6.
Mohamed El Baladi was sentenced to 30 months in prison on Sept. 3, just a week after his arrest on Aug. 28, in a court in the northern town of Taounate, 50 miles from Fez. Unlike that occasion, when the court convicted him before police allowed him to obtain legal representation, several defense lawyers were on hand yesterday at the hearing.
Authorities on Sept. 26 released him from prison after international outcry over his conviction. El Baladi, 31, was charged with inducing young Muslims to convert, punishable by six months to three years in prison and a fine of up to 500 dirhams (US$60), according to Article 220 of Morocco’s penal code. El Baladi’s fine of 1,500 dirhams exceeded the maximum, and police also took 5,000 dirhams from his home during the raid, a source said.
Police in the remote town of Ain Aicha, Taounate Province, arrested him for alleged proselytizing, vilified him for leaving Islam and pressured him to reveal names of other converts to Christianity, sources said (see Morning Star News, Sept. 13). Strict sharia (Islamic law) condemns apostates from Islam to death.
Mohamed Oulad Ayad of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights reportedly said he hopes the sentence will be reduced to a one-month suspended sentence and fine of no more than 500 dirhams.
Human rights advocates say El Baladi’s conviction and sentencing violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Algeria is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which implements provisions of the UDHR.
Along with the 5,000 dirhams police stole, gendarmerie also seized several Christian CDs, books and magazines, sources said.
The West has generally applauded Morocco’s new constitution of 2011, which provides for a fair trial and presumption of innocence until proven guilty for those accused of breaking the law.
While police monitoring and harassment of Christians is common in Morocco, El Baladi’s case comes as Christians have become increasingly unsettled by persecution and violations of religious freedom. Morocco’s King Mohammed VI is seen as a moderate, but Islam is the official religion of the state, and the king’s titles include, “The Defender of the Faithful.” Christians are also suspicious as his government shares power in a coalition that includes the Justice and Development Party, considered to have links with the Muslim Brotherhood; the party calls for a society governed by Islam.
On Dec. 28, 2005, Christian convert Jamaa Ait Bakrim was sentenced to 15 years in prison for proselytism and for destroying the goods of others by burning two abandoned telephone poles touching his property. In March 2010, the government expelled at least 33 Christian foreign residents from the country. Among them were 10 adult Christians, along with their children, who were running The Village of Hope, a foster daycare center for orphans. The foster children were turned over to the care of people they did not know.
In addition to the expulsions, roughly 81 people were declared “persona non grata” for alleged proselytizing.
There are about 8,000 Moroccan Christians out of a population of almost 35 million people, according to the 2012 International Religious Freedom Report of the U.S. Department of State.
Photo: Fez, Morocco. (Wikipedia, Zimaal)