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Algerian scholar handed jail term for 'offending Islam'

April 22, 2021

Said Djabelkhir, an Algerian scholar on Islam, says he'll appeal his three-year jail sentence and keep fighting for "freedom" of reasoned thought.

Algerien Said Djabelkhir
Image: Ryad Kramdi/AFP

Said Djabelkhir, an academic who analyses Sufi Islam and is widely followed for his social media posts, left an Algiers courtroom Thursday saying he was "a professor and not an imam" and would continue his fight for reasoned thought.

He had just been sentenced to three years in jail — on bail and subject to appeal — after being found guilty in a lawsuit based on an Algerian law targeting "anyone who offends the Prophet or denigrates the dogmatic precepts of Islam."

The case had been brought by another university professor and other detractors, who claimed that "everything in the Quran is history, with a capital H."

Djabelkhir, 53, who makes a distinction between religious scripture and history, had argued during the trial that he had only provided "academic reflections."

His lawyer Moumen Chadi described the case against him as baseless. "There is no proof," he said.

Algeria under President Abdelmadjid Tebboune is headed for parliamentary elections in June, with Islamists seeking gains while the largely secular pro-democracy Hirak movement plans a poll boycott, demanding Algeria's military elite relinquish its long-held power.

"Hirak" Demo in Algiers. Helmuted police block protesters
Algiers, March 1, 2021: "Hirak" protesters blocked by police Image: Mousaab Rouibi/AA/picture alliance

Criminalization of ideas

The Algerian League for Human Rights condemned the court's "criminalization of ideas," and Amnesty International described the sentence imposed on Djabelkhir as "outrageous." 

Djabelkhir, the author of two well-known works critical of dogma on Islam, had written that the sacrifice of sheep pre-dated Islam. 

He had also criticized the marriage of pre-pubescent girls and the mandatory use of head coverings in some Muslim societies, asserting that Islamic scriptures did not make these practices obligatory.

Specialist on Sufi Islam

Before his conviction on Thursday, Djabelkhir had told the French daily Le Figaro that it was the "first time in the history of Algeria that a university professor is [being tried] for giving his opinion in his own domain of specialization.”

Opponents, however, accused him of disrespecting the Quran and Islam's five pillars, including the ritual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

On Wednesday, Algerian journalist Noureddine Tounsi was sentenced to a year in prison on charges that included "insulting the president of the republic."

Reporters Without Borders ranked Algeria 146 out of 180 countries and territories in its 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

ipj/rc (AFP, AP, dpa)

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