Authorities in the Sunni Muslim-majority country of Morocco appear to be targeting Christian converts as have been arrested up to three times a week and subjected to harassment, according to a Catholic charity.
Converts to Christianity have been repeatedly arrested by police as part of a campaign clamping down on the faith, Aid to the Church in Need reported, quoting Jawad Elhamidy, president of the Moroccan Association of Rights and Religious Liberties.
“The penal code holds that all Moroccans are Muslims, so those who convert to Christianity face legal problems, besides threats to their security,” Elhamidy said.
Of the 34.6 million people in Morocco, between 8,000 and 25,000 are estimated to be indigenous Moroccan Christians, according to the charity.
It is also estimated that about 30,000 foreign residents are Catholic and 10,000 are Protestant, but they are generally allowed to worship freely if they do not evangelize.
Evangelism or converting to another religion is a criminal offense punishable by between six months and three years in prison. Moroccan law criminalizes “shaking the faith of a Muslim,” which means that Christians who talk to others about their faith risk criminal charges and arrest, according to the Christian ministry Open Doors.
“If a Moroccan enters a church, one of two things can happen – either a policeman sitting in front of the church arrests him or her, or the cleric in charge of the church asks the person to leave, unless the purpose is tourism,” Elhamidy said. “Moroccan Christians worship in secret house churches to avoid state sanctions or harassment from society.”
To ensure Moroccans are not attending services, expatriate churches are monitored intensely, Open Doors says, adding that foreigners accused of sharing the Gospel in Morocco have been deported.
Apart from law, Christians from Muslim backgrounds face pressure also from their families and communities, especially in rural areas, so they may be forced to keep their faith a secret. Converts to Christianity can lose inheritance rights and custody of children.
Other restrictions imposed by Islamic authorities include the confiscation of Christian literature in Arabic (including Bibles) and serious challenges in securing places of worship for Christians with a Muslim background.
Open Doors adds that Islamic extremists are also a threat, as advocates for the rights of Christians have been targeted for violent attacks in this parliamentary constitutional monarchy.
In 2018, a newly married Christian couple, Loubna and her husband Kamal, faced threats from the local community in their hometown. Their marriage could be considered invalid, while “fornication” is punishable under the country’s penal code.
“We want to be treated on an equal footing with Moroccan Jews,” Chouaib El Fatihi, coordinator of the Christian committee at the Moroccan association for religious rights and freedoms, said at the time. “We want to be recognized as Moroccan Christian citizens and to enjoy the right to legal marriages and burial ceremonies according to our religion.”