Algerian Islamologist sentenced to three years in prison for "offending Islam"

Algerian Islamologist sentenced to three years in prison for "offending Islam"

Saïd Djabelkhir is an Islamologist who has specialised in the study of Sufi Islam. He was sentenced on April 22, 2021 to three years in prison for “offense to Islam” by the Court of Sidi Mhamed following the filing of a complaint by private individuals in January 2020. The complainants felt that he had used derogatory and offensive terms against the Muslim religion. He was not placed under a detention order following his conviction. Djabelkhir has appealed the decision and his trial date has been set for June 2, 2021.

Saïd Djabelkhir is an Islamologist who has specialised in the study of Sufi Islam. Since May 2019, he has been subject to pressure and threats because of his theological positions. On May 22, 2019, he filed a complaint before the prosecutor of the court of Boufarik, but to no avail.

Between January 10 and 13, 2020, Djabelkhir posted on his Facebook page four publications in which he develops teleological arguments on the practices of pilgrimage and the sacrifice of sheep, the stories mentioned in the Koran, which for Djabelkhir aim at “conveying the moral values of society, and not at giving the chronology of historical facts”, and the admissibility of certain Hadiths.

Following these remarks, a complaint was filed on January 19, 2020 by a group of lawyers and a teacher in computer science, before the investigating judge of the Court of first instance of Sidi Mhamed. The complainants believe that he had used derogatory and offensive terms against the Muslim religion.

Before the opening of his trial, Djabelkhir had never been summoned by the police and had never been heard either by the prosecutor or the investigating judge. On the contrary, the plaintiffs were heard by the investigating judge on February 26, 2020. Djabelkhir was not informed of the date of his trial until the lawyers of the teacher who filed the complaint against him announced the trial date on Facebook.

On April 1, 2021, Djabelkhir presented himself freely before the Court of first instance of Sidi Mhamed. On that day, he was informed that he was prosecuted for “offending the prophet of Islam” and “denigration of the dogma or precepts of Islam” under article 144 bis 2 of the Penal Code.

During the trial, Djabelkhir's lawyers pleaded that the complaint against him was inadmissible because it was filed by individuals and not initiated by the public prosecutor. Besides, the defendant was not given enough time to present all his arguments. The debates focused on the interpretation of the defendant's Facebook posts.

On April 22, 2021, the court of first instance of Sidi Mhamed sentenced Djabelkhir to three years in prison in addition to a fine of 50,000 DA. The Court however did not issue a detention order following the announcement of the verdict. His lawyers have appealed the decision.

Article 144 bis 2 used to prosecute and convict Djabelkhir was criticised by the UN Human Rights Committee. In its 2018 Concluding Observations on Algeria's fourth periodic report, the Committee found that this provision, among others, continued to “criminalize or fine activities related to the exercise of freedom of expression”.

In general, it is worth recalling the conclusions of the Rabat Action Plan, which states that “blasphemy laws are counterproductive, as they can result in the de facto censorship of any dialogue, debate, and also criticism regarding inter-religious/belief and intra-religious/belief, most of which can be constructive, healthy, and necessary.”

Believing that Djabelkhir's conviction could have a chilling effect on the exercise of fundamental rights in relation to public and academic debates in Algeria, MENA Rights Group sent an urgent appeal to the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression on April 29, 2021.

Timeline

April 29, 2021: MENA Rights Group sent an urgent appeal to the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression regarding the situation of Saïd Djabelkhir.
April 22, 2021: Court of Sidi Mhamed sentences Djabelkhir to three years in prison in addition to a fine of 50,000 DA.
April 1, 2021: Beginning of the trial against Djabelkhir.
January 19, 2020: A complaint is filed against him before the investigating judge of the Court of first instance of Sidi Mhamed.
January 10-13, 2020: Djabelkhir publishes on his Facebook wall several posts in which he develops theological arguments.

Related