July 9, 2010
For years the northwestern African country of Morocco was considered a moderate nation regarding human rights and religious freedom for Christians.
In the last several months Morocco, whose population of 33 million is 99 percent Muslim, has arrested, harassed and deported believers. Most of them have been accused of "proselytizing" -- a common charge in Muslim-dominated countries which are alarmed over the spread of Christianity.
Since March, the Moroccan government has expelled 128 foreign national Christians, including Americans. On March 8, Morocco expelled 26 Christian foreign staff members and parents working at Village of Hope Orphanage located in Ain Leuh. Dutchman Herman Boonstra, leader of Village of Hope, and his wife were given just a day to leave the country. They were forced to leave behind eight adopted children at the orphanage. Since then they have been denied reentry. The 33 children who were being cared for cried out "hysterically" for their foster parents, according to reports.
This happened despite Village of Hope's proper following of protocol. The group registered with the Moroccan government in 2002 as an official Christian organization and received permission to talk about Christianity to the children in their care.
This is not the only sign of a major crackdown on Christians inside Morocco, which ranks No. 37 among 50 countries on this year's Open Doors World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians.
According to Compass Direct News, Moroccan Christians said authorities began harassing them even before the forced deportations. Dozens of Christians have been called to police stations for interrogation and many have been threatened and verbally abused, reports Compass. Some house church Christians have been forced to stop meeting due to the intense pressure. At least two believers have been beaten, sources told Compass. Moroccan believers say Muslim extremists are also aiding and encouraging the government to pursue Christians by exposing them on Facebook. Recently a Christian woman from a Muslim background, who wears a necklace with a cross, was fired for being a Christian. She had been employed at a restaurant for years. Her employer had known she was a Christian when she was hired.
Why the surge in the persecution of Christians? There is conjecture that Muslim extremists inside and outside of the country are pressuring the government to become more "hard-line" toward Christians and other minorities.
Compass reported that on April 12 local Moroccan media reported 7,000 Muslim leaders signed a document describing the work of Christians within Morocco as "moral rape" and "religious terrorism." Also, Reuters News reported Religious Endowments & Islamic Affairs Minister Ahmed Toufiq as saying "proselytism" and "activism of some foreigners" had "undermined public order."
Outside of the country, a regional legal expert told Compass that the Organization of the Islamic Conference has been putting pressure on countries across the Middle East and northern Africa to remove Christians in order to stop their influence.
Iraq is a perfect example of how pressure from Muslim extremists, who have murdered, kidnapped and threatened believers, has depleted that country of what once was a thriving Christian minority. In the 1990s there were an estimated 850,000 Christians in Iraq; today there is approximately less than half that number. Many of the Christians have fled to countries like Jordan and Syria or fled to northern Iraq as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
The United States government has basically ignored the Christians' tenuous situation inside Iraq. As Christians, we can not let that happen to our brothers and sisters in Christ, whether it's in Iraq, Iran, North Korea … or Morocco.
On a positive note, the Morocco expulsions have garnered attention on Capitol Hill. On June 17, expelled Christians got their moment during a hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, led by Rep. Frank Wolf.
During the hearing, a Moroccan Christian who fled the country five years ago said Morocco has never been as moderate as it tried to portrayed itself. "The fact is religious freedom in Morocco simply does not exist. The West is presented with a façade that is now exposed," he said.
During the hearing Rep. Wolf vowed not to "let this thing go" until it is resolved. His office is circulating a letter seeking signatures which will be sent to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The letter expresses concern over the "deteriorating situation of human rights and religious freedom in Morocco and the ongoing deportation of American citizens."
Please join with me in prayer for Christians in Morocco. Pray that the ousted Christian ministry workers may return to the country to continue their humanitarian efforts. Pray that the Moroccan government might not be swayed by the extremists inside and outside of the country. And also pray for efforts by Rep. Wolf and the Human Rights Commission to campaign for religious freedom in Morocco.
Carl Moeller, Ph.D., is president and CEO of Open Doors USA, the American arm of Open Doors International, a worldwide ministry which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians around the world since 1955.