The government reportedly arrested, detained, and questioned Moroccan Christians about their beliefs and contacts with other Christians. The government reaffirmed its policy opposing efforts to convert Muslims to Christianity and continued to restrict the distribution of non-Islamic religious materials, as well as some Islamic materials it deemed inconsistent with the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam. The authorities arrested and sentenced several individuals for eating in public during the Ramadan fast. Government institutions, such as the MEIA and security services, monitored and, in some cases, restricted religious activities of Muslims and non-Muslims.
Local media reported in July authorities in Rabat had arrested a Moroccan Christian along with a foreign friend. The Moroccan stated the foreigner was quickly released but the police confiscated the Moroccan’s mobile phone and detained him for more than 24 hours, during which time they beat him and questioned him about his religious beliefs.
According to Moroccan Christian leaders, in January the police in Fes arrested a 22-year-old in possession of a Bible and reportedly held him for 10 hours of questioning regarding his religious beliefs and his contact with other Moroccan Christians. He stated he was not given food or water during this period.
Human rights groups reported authorities in July had arrested five people in Marrakech for eating and drinking in public during fasting hours. They were sentenced to two months in jail. Also in July a court in al-Hoceima sentenced two citizens to two-month jail terms for eating in public during fasting hours.
In July the minister of justice stated citizens were free to change their religion and no Moroccan law punished anyone for changing his/her religion. He made reference to two cases of Muslim citizens converting to Christianity who he said had not been punished. He stated he had intervened in one of the cases, ordering the prosecutor general to set free the detained convert after ascertaining the conversion did not entail coercion or material inducements. He further stated criminal law would not apply in conversions to Christianity or atheism unless coercion was involved. While the law allowed the Maliki-Ashari Muslims to proselytize, the minister said the law criminalized Christian evangelism because the majority of missionaries had offered inducements to poor families and children to convert to Christianity.
The government continued to allow the operation of registered foreign resident Protestant churches not falling under the CECM but formed under the auspices of AMEP. The governments also continued its policy of not recognizing local Christian, Bahai, or Shia religious groups, and not allowing them to register as religious organizations, which religious leaders and legal scholars said prevented those groups from legally gathering for religious ceremonies or forming associations under which they could operate legally.
In August a Shia group stated the government had denied its request to register as an association, although it had obtained a commercial license to operate its publishing house. According to representatives of the Shia group, government authorities denied their registration because the authorities claimed it would set a precedent and allow other minority religious groups to establish themselves. In March the Ministry of Interior denied reports it had authorized a Shia group to open a publishing house in Tangier.
Although the government continued to ban the Justice and Charity Organization (JCO) because of its longstanding rejection of the preeminence of the king’s spiritual authority, the government reportedly tolerated some of its activities while suppressing others. The JCO continued to be able to participate in political demonstrations, hold small conferences, release press statements, and manage internet sites, although the government occasionally prevented the organization from meeting and restricted public distribution of the JCO’s published materials.
The MEIA remained the principal government institution responsible for shaping the country’s religious sphere and promoting its interpretation of Sunni Islam. The MEIA continued to provide training and direction to imams and to monitor Friday mosque sermons and Quranic schools to prevent what the ministry considered to be inflammatory or extremist rhetoric and to ensure teaching followed approved doctrine. The government continued to require mosques to close to the public shortly after daily prayer times to prevent use of the premises for what it termed unauthorized activity.
The MEIA continued to employ more than 500 chief imams and more than 200 female Muslim spiritual guides (murshidat) in mosques or religious institutions throughout the country. The female guides taught religious subjects and provided counsel on a variety of matters, including women’s legal rights and family planning.
Adherents of the Moroccan Christian, Bahai and Shia faiths said fears of government surveillance led them to refrain from public worship and instead to meet discreetly in members’ homes. Foreign resident Christian church officials reported Moroccan Christians rarely attended their churches, and the officials did not encourage them to do so to avoid accusations of proselytizing. Moroccan Christians stated the authorities made phone or house calls several times a year to demonstrate they had lists of members of Christian networks and monitored Christian activities. Some Moroccan Christians reported authorities pressured Christian converts to renounce their faith by informing the converts’ friends, relatives, and employers of the individuals’ conversion. Christians also reported the government did not respond to complaints about continued societal harassment. Foreigners attended religious services without restriction at places of worship belonging to officially recognized Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant Churches.
According to media reports, in May a court in Agadir refused to issue a marriage license to a Moroccan man and his German, Christian fiancee on the grounds they belonged to a “satanic cult.” The media stated the judge based his decision on a report the man had renounced his religion (Islam) in 2008.
In December the media reported a Moroccan Christian group sent an open letter to the king asking for permission to celebrate Christmas and other Christian rites, and for an end to restrictions on their religious practice. According to some Moroccan Christians, palace officials had not responded to the request as of year’s end.
The government continued to restrict the distribution of non-Islamic religious materials, as well as some Islamic materials it deemed inconsistent with the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam. Its policy remained to try to control the sale of all books, videotapes, and DVDs it considered to be extremist.
The government continued to permit the display and sale of Bibles in French, English, and Spanish. A limited number of Arabic translations of the Bible were available for sale in a few bookshops for use in university religion courses. Authorities confiscated Bibles they believed were intended for use in proselytizing.
The government continued to disseminate information about Islam over dedicated state-funded Quranic television and radio channels. The television channel Assadissa (Sixth) continued programming consisting primarily of Quran and hadith (traditional teachings) readings and exegesis, highlighting the government’s interpretation of Islam.
The monarchy continued to support the rehabilitation of synagogues and restoration of Jewish cemeteries throughout the country, efforts it stated it deemed necessary to preserve the country’s religious and cultural heritage and to serve as a symbol of tolerance.
The construction of new mosques, including those constructed using private funds, continued to require authorization from the MEIA. The authorization of the Ministry of Interior continued to be a requirement for the renovation or construction of churches.
The government continued to fund the study of Jewish culture and heritage at universities. At the University of Rabat, Hebrew and comparative religion were course offerings in the Department of Islamic Studies. Jews and Moroccan Christians stated elementary and high school curricula continued not to mention the historical legacy and current presence of their groups in the country, however.
In March the king inaugurated a new royal regional imam training institute as part of a royal initiative which government officials said was designed to promote openness and tolerance among the new generation of male and female Muslim religious guides, including Moroccan, West African, and French students. Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, a royally sponsored university, continued to offer an advanced degree in Islamic studies with an emphasis in comparative religion to MEIA-nominated imams and others.
The government continued to permit several parties identified as “Islamically oriented” rather than Islamist, including the Party of Justice and Development (PJD), which remained the largest political party in parliament.
Jews continued to serve in two high-level government positions – one as a royal advisor and one as an ambassador-at-large.
According to observers, the government tolerated social and charity activities consistent with its view of Sunni Islam. For example, the Unity and Reform Movement, which shares some leadership with the PJD and is the country’s largest legally recognized Islamist social organization, continued to operate without restrictions according to media reports.