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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Islamic Council Proposes Death Penalty for Apostates in Morocco
International Christian Concern
International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the Supreme Ulema Council in Morocco published a fatwa this week calling for the death penalty for Muslims who abandon their religion. Christians are concerned that the edict, which has sparked controversy in the country, will be used to "harass" and "harm" the church if approved.
The Supreme Ulema Council (CSO), a body of Islamic scholars headed by King Mohammed VI, published a fatwa in the Arabic-language daily Akhbar al-Youm on Tuesday declaring that Muslims who renounce their faith "should be condemned to death," Agence France-Presse reports. The CSO, the only institution entitled to issue fatwas in Morocco, reportedly drafted the edict in April 2012, but only recently published it.
Mahjoub El Hiba, a senior human rights official in the Moroccan government, denies that the government received a fatwa on apostasy, as Akhbar al-Youm had claimed. Yet media reports on the fatwa have provoked strong reactions from rights activists and religious minorities, including Christians, in the country.
"There's a lot of confusion and discussion in Morocco right now about the fatwa," said a pastor near Marrakech who asked to remain anonymous for security reasons. "We fear that if the fatwa is approved, the government will use it to harass us and even arrest us during our meetings and the fundamentalists will have an excuse to harm us."
While apostasy is illegal in many Muslim countries and punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, Moroccan law does not directly prohibit it. Article 220 of Morocco's Penal Code does state, however, that "attempting to undermine the faith of a Muslim or convert him to another religion" is punishable with six months to three years in prison.
Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, "We are deeply concerned about the proposed fatwa which would warrant the death sentence for Muslims accused of apostasy. The Moroccan government lost credibility among international human rights groups in 2010 when it deported more than 70 foreign Christian aid workers on charges of proselytizing without granting due process rights to a hearing. Moreover, a Moroccan Christian, Jamaa Ait Bakrim, continues to languish in prison to this day after being arrested in 2005 and given a 15-year sentence for allegedly sharing his Christian faith with a Muslim. The deportations and arrest blatantly violated Morocco's pledge to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which, in Article 18, upholds an individual's right to choose one's own religion or belief. We urge the Moroccan government to safeguard the religious freedoms of all Moroccans and to reject edicts that would constitute a breach of the country's international human rights obligations."
For interviews, contact Aidan Clay, Regional Manager for the Middle East: firstname.lastname@example.org
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