Harassment comes amid calls for religious freedom.By Our Cairo Correspondent
CAIRO, Egypt, April 20, 2018 (Morning Star News) – Security police in Morocco detained a Christian for 24 hours after finding Christian literature in his backpack, according to published reports.
Spanish news agency EFE reported that authorities stopped the 35-year-old Moroccan, whose name was not disclosed, as he came out of his home in Rabat on Wednesday morning (April 18). His lawyer, Ahmed Arhamoush, reported the arrest on Thursday evening to digital news outlet Voices of Magharebia, a subsidiary of the U.S. government-backed Middle East Broadcasting Network.
After spending 24 hours in custody, the Christian was released without charges, according to EFE. His attorney reportedly said Moroccan law does not outlaw Christianity or conversion to Christianity, only activities that “shake the faith” of a Muslim. EFE reported that security agents found gospel literature and four religious books in the backpack.
Article 220 of the Moroccan Criminal code calls for imprisonment of six months to three years and a fine of 200 to 500 Moroccan dirham (US$20 to US$ 49) for employing enticements “to shake the faith of a Muslim.” Such “enticements” could include education, health care, orphanages and other aid that Christians consider biblical commands.
The harassment comes as Moroccan Christians are beginning to call on the government to respect their religious rights. In a meeting with the National Human Rights Council on April 3, a group called the National Coordination of Moroccan Christians submitted petitions calling for basic rights such as freedom of worship, according to online news outlet Evangelical Focus.
Among other rights sought, Evangelical Focus reported, were celebration of civil marriages, cemeteries for Christians, biblical names for children, the right of children to decide whether they want to decline Islamic religion class at school and the legal normalization of Christian churches.
Most native Moroccan Christians feel compelled to hold worship meetings secretly in private homes.
Following the meeting with the rights council earlier this month, representatives of the National Coordination of Moroccan Christians last week sent a letter to Prime Minister Saadedin Al Outhmani to reinforce their demand for religious freedom, according to Madrid, Spain-based online platform Protestante Digital.
“We have told him that we have submitted a petition to the National Human Rights Council, and we have asked him to help us to achieve our rights if the letter reaches him,” a coordination spokesman told Protestante Digital. “We tell him that we hope both of them will support us, and the government will treat Christians just as the king wants, when he said that he is the prince of all believers in Morocco, Christians, Muslims or any other creed alike.”
Morocco’s constitution guarantees freedom of thought, expression, and assembly and says the state “guarantees to all the free exercise of beliefs,” but it also states that Islam is the state religion, according to the U.S State Department’s latest (2016) International Religious Freedom Report.
“Voluntary conversion is not a crime under the criminal or civil codes,” the report states.
Morocco’s population is 99 percent Sunni Muslim, and estimates of the Christian population vary wildly. The State Department’s report notes that Moroccan and foreign-resident Christian leaders estimate there are between 2,000 to 6,000 Moroccan Christians, but that some speculate there may be as many as 50,000.
Numbers for foreign-resident Christians are more firm.
“Foreign-resident Christian leaders estimate the foreign-resident Christian population numbers at least 30,000 Roman Catholics and 10,000 Protestants,” the report states.