By BosNewsLife Africa Service
RABAT, MOROCCO (BosNewsLife)– Morocco has expelled 100 foreign Christians since March because they allegedly tried to convert Muslims, the harshest crackdown in decades, BosNewsLife learned Saturday, May 22.
Morocco’s Islamic Affairs Minister Ahmed Toufiq said in published remarks that the deportations, were needed for “order and calm” and to avoid a clash between faiths.
The latest expulsion was that of Spaniard Francisco Paton Millan, the head of a small energy company, who was ordered last week to leave the country for trying to convert Muslims to Christianity, church workers and European diplomats said.
Western diplomats and Christian rights investigators also said that authorities had ordered 23 foreigners to leave last week and that this was part of a new wave of such expulsions.
There was reportedly at least one American citizen among them. The list of deportees also includes citizens from the United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, Spain, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Guatemala, Columbia and Korea, rights activists said.
Several of those targeted earlier in the nationwide crackdown cared for 33 Moroccan orphans at the Christian orphanage Village of Hope (VoH) in the town of Ain Leuh, some 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of the country’s city of Fez.
Morocco’s Communications Minister Khalid Naciri defended the decision saying the Christians had violated the Islamic country’s religious traditions and legislation banning proselytizing.
However VoH denied the allegations. “The Moroccan authorities have not produced any evidence of the alleged offense and they gave only a few hours for the parents to pack up belongings and explain to their children that they might never see them again.”
Analysts have described the expulsions as the harshest crackdown seen since the country achieved independence in 1956. All of them were accused of proselytism and breaking the faith of Muslims, both charges under the penal code.
The deportation of foreigners has also affected the national Moroccan church, said International Christian Concern (ICC), a major advocacy group. It quoted a pastor near the city of Marrakech as saying that his church has stopped “all worship” activity.
“We are afraid that they will attack us if we are in meetings, so there is no meeting. We think the next step may be against Moroccans,” the pastor reportedly said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Maybe they will find accusations against us or they may raid the meeting to arrest people.”
These expulsions have caused concern in the US Congress, which will be holding a hearing on the issue, June 17.
Congressman Frank Wolf, who has been vocal about religious rights, said he has urged Morocco’s government “to uphold its commitment to the principles of religious tolerance and freedom, that for so long, made it a model of tolerance and modernity in the Arab world.”