By BosNewsLife Africa Service
RABAT, MOROCCO (BosNewsLife)– Nearly seven years into the prison sentence of the only Christian in Morocco known to be extensively detained for his faith, local Christians and activists have questioned the Muslim state’s harsh measure toward a man who dared to publicly speak about Jesus Christ.
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.
Open Doors, an advocacy group investigating the case, quoted activists and Moroccan Christians as saying that the severity of his sentence for a “misdemeanor” underscores Morocco’s attempt to put the 48-year-old Christian behind bars as long as possible “because he persistently spoke about his faith.”
“He became a Christian and didn’t keep it to himself,” explained a Moroccan Christian and host for Arabic Christian television broadcaster Al Hayat Television in remarks distributed by Open Doors. “He shared it with people around him,” added the host, Rachid, who apparently only uses his first name for security reasons.
Prosecutors in the southwestern city of Agadir tried Bakrim for “destruction of the goods of others,” which trial observers say is punishable with up to 20 years in prison, and for proselytism under Article 220, which carries a jail term of up to three years.
He acknowledged his Christian faith during the trial, but denied accusations that he approached his neighbors to “undermine their Muslim faith,” according to Christians familiar with the situation.
Bakrim, who has a bachelor degree in political science, reportedly became a Christian in the 1990s while traveling in Europe. In 1993 he applied for political asylum in the Netherlands but was refused and expelled back to Morocco when his visa expired, according to activists involved in the case.
Returning to his village family members thought his conversion would not last, but he continued to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and in 1994 spent seven months in jail for ‘proselytizing’, Christians said.
He was also incarcerated at a mental hospital, although his supporters said he had no mental illness.
Two years later he was prosecuted for putting up a Christian cross in public and spent a further year in prison, Christians said.
After his release, Bakrim was rejected by his family and forced to move from his home village to the city of Massa, according to rights groups. He resisted pressure to convert back to Islam and was sentenced again.
By the end of December, Jamaa Ait Bakrim, 48, will have been behind bars for seven years, mainly at Morocco’s largest prison, Prison Centrale, in the northwestern city of Kenitra.
Though there have been other cases of Christians jailed for their faith, none of those sentences has been as long as Bakrim’s, Open Doors stressed in a statement to BosNewsLife. “They will just leave him in the prison so he dies spiritually and psychologically,” warned Rachid.
Morocco has been under international pressure to improve religious rights amid concerns over this and other cases as well as the expulsion in recent years of dozens of Christian missionaries, including aid workers helping orphans.
The government of this North African kingdom of over 32-million people has defended its policies. It says the targeted Christians “have violated” the Islamic country’s religious traditions and legislation “banning proselytizing”. (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).
This guy is crazy, he was put in prison several times for doing stupid things and proselytizing openly and aggressively in a region which is very conservative. He was rejected by his family and neighbors and was unwelcome everywhere he went. People were continuously making claims against him. They tried a psychiatric hospital but that didn’t work, and when he “destroyed the goods of others” they found a good excuse to get rid of him. If he was discreet and smart with his Christianity nothing would have happened. I know Moroccans who converted and nobody bothers them, I had drinks with them and we talked intelligently and nobody got excited. Looking at this from far away you see a simple story of religious intolerance, but it’s more complicated. The missionaries you mentioned were covert and engaged in all sorts of activities. It was the kids who were complaining to parents or others about how they were being indoctrinated. These were vulnerable kids, poor or orphans or handicapped, that’s not honest! If someone converts to Islam in some small town in the Bible Belt and starts proselytizing loud and clear and putting Islamic signs up on his store wall and window what do you think would happen?
(I corrected a few things, sorry)
This guy uses christianity to get political asylum and it did not work. sorry
You asked “If someone converts to Islam in some small town in the Bible Belt and starts proselytizing loud and clear and putting Islamic signs up on his store wall and window what do you think would happen?” Answer: Not receiving 15 years imprisonment, at least not in the Bible Belts of Western countries such as the Netherlands or the United States. That may perhaps change, as BosNewsLife’s recent story on the Bible study leader detained in Arizona shows. I think the point is that he feels it as a Biblical calling to share the Gospel of Christ with others. Just as the apostles did, who indeed also were persecuted.
Stefan J. Bos, BosNewsLife
The 15 years sentence was not for converting, but I agree they wanted to put him away as long as they could, and I mean everybody, they wanted to get rid of him, he was a nuisance! I know the US Bible Belt quite well, for having spent many months in Tennessee, and for having followed the story of the Murfreesboro Islamic Center closely. I still can’t believe human beings can get so low, especially people with an education and career, they were against the center for absurd reasons, but it was obvious they were exploding with hatred! Murfreesboro is a university town near Nashville, so imagine what could happen in some lost town in the Appalachian Mountains! I am not against sharing your religious beliefs with others, as long as the others have an open mind and are willing to discuss and debate.
I currently live in the bible belt of the US, a place where there are churches every kilometer. Although Muslims are misunderstood here, they are able to engage in the same free speech and expression of their religion that everyone else does around here. I drive by a mosque to get to work everyday. I’ve see Muslim missionaries here, I’ve hung out and spoke with them. I’ve gone to their dialogues as well.
Btw I agree the situation in Tennessee is low, and unconstitutional. But as you shift the blame, you ignore the scores of examples we have of Christians having hard times in muslim countries. I wonder what would happen if a group of evangelical Christians wanted to build a church in a muslim majority town in the middle east (Saudi Arabia) or africa (Egypt).
Both religions teach that souls are in jeopardy of eternal damnation, so IMO as long as they don’t take the rights of others or incite violence, they should both be allowed to speak freely from their books IN PUBLIC.
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” -Jesus
-Bilgi (an Evangelical)
Searching for this for some time now – i guess luck is far more advanced than look for engines 🙂