Algerian Scholar Gets 3-Year Jail Sentence For "Offending Islam"

Renowned Algerian author and scholar on Islam, Said Djabelkhir, was sentenced to 3 years in prison for "offending Islam" in three Facebook posts. In January 2020, he drew comparisons between sheep sacrifice for Eid al-Adha and the Berber New Year celebrations or Yennayer, a pagan ritual predating Islam. He also referred to some stories in the Qur'an, such as the Noah's Ark, as "myths," and said he considered certain hadiths "apocryphal."



Djabelkhir, a specialist on Sufi Islam, has called for "reflection" on Islam's founding texts "because the traditional readings no longer meet the expectations, needs, and questions of modern man." He also criticized practices including the marriage of pre-pubescent girls in some Muslim societies.

He was put on trial after seven lawyers and a fellow academic complained against him and claimed, "everything in the Quran is history, with a capital H." Making a distinction between religion and history, Djabelkhir has argued during the trial that he only provided "academic reflections."

Djabelkhi, 53, left the Algiers courtroom, saying he was "a professor, not an imam" and would continue to fight for reason. After being released on bail, he said he was surprised by the severity of the sentence and that he would appeal to the Court of Cassation if necessary. "The fight for freedom of conscience is non-negotiable," said the author. "It is a fight which must continue."

His lawyers argued before the court that the complaint against him was inadmissible because it came from individuals and not from the public prosecutor. They also warned against the trial becoming a launchpad for courts becoming an arena for "religious debates."

Lawyer Moumen Chadi described the case against him as baseless and said, "There is no proof." Amna Guellali, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director, described the three-year sentence as "outrageous" and called for the conviction to be "quashed immediately."

Algeria uses a 1990 law to protect Islam from defamation, control access to information from outside the country, and outlaw writing that threatens national unity. Convicts violating the law may face prison sentences between three and twenty-four months and fines of 50,000 to 500,000 dinars.

Article 144(2) of the Algerian Penal Code states that "whoever offends the prophet (peace be upon him) and God's other prophets and messengers or the precepts of Islam (whether by writing, drawing, declaration or any other way), is sentenced to 3-5 years imprisonment and fined 50,000 DZD to 100,000 DZD, or one of these two penalties."

Algerian authorities have previously used Article 144 of the penal code to crack down on dissent and prosecute activists. On 8 October 2020, a court in Khenchla, in eastern Algeria, handed down a ten-year prison sentence and a heavy fine against activist Yacine Mebarki for charges that included "offending the Prophet of Islam" after the police found a Qu'ran with ripped pages in his house. The verdict was later reduced on appeal to one year in jail. In 2016, a court in Setif sentenced Slimane Bouhafs, a Christian convert, to three years in prison under the same article for Facebook posts criticizing religious ideas.

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