Published on 16 April 2021 in Action alerts

Algeria: academic on trial for alleged ‘blasphemy’

Academic inquiry is an essential part of the individual freedoms protected under international law and universal to all. Critical analysis and questioning is fundamental to this process. As such, the Algerian authorities should drop all charges against Said Djabelkhir, a leading expert on Sufism, who is on trial for ‘blasphemy’, said the End Blasphemy Laws Coalition today.

Djabelkhir was first summoned to court on 25 February 2021 after a fellow academic filed a complaint that his writings on various Islamic rituals, such as Hajj and animal sacrifices on Eid, among other critiques, constituted “an attack and mockery of the authentic hadiths of the Sunna [the custom and practice] of the Prophet,” and had caused individuals psychological harm. A verdict is expected to be delivered on 22 April.

Djabelkhir denies the charges, stating that he had simply questioned the validity of some of the hadiths attributed to the Prophet Muhammad. Talking to The New Arab, Djabelkhir commented:

“I was very surprised by this lawsuit that was filed against me for several reasons – because the plaintiff was a university professor and he was supposed to contact me and discuss with me my thoughts and publications with which he disagrees.

“At that time I would have welcomed and accepted his dialogue in the format he chose. But for him to turn to the judiciary against ideas with which he disagrees with, knowing though he is a university professor, surprised and amazed me.”

Article 144 bis 2 of the Algerian Penal Code (in French) proscribes a punishment of three to five years in prison to “anyone who offends the prophet and the envoys of God or denigrates the dogma or the precepts of Islam, whether by writing, drawing, declaration or any other means.” The law is interpreted widely; in January this year, the law was used to prosecute Algerian political activist, Walid Kechida, who had shared a series of political memes on Facebook. Kechida was released on time served following the reduction of his sentence on appeal.

The article comes into clear conflict with the principle of academic freedom, which is protected under a network of articles enshrined in international law, including Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights of 1966 (ICESCR), Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Algeria is a State Party.

The End Blasphemy Laws Coalition calls on the Algerian authorities to drop the charges against academic Said Djabelkhir immediately and unconditionally and to repeal its ‘blasphemy’ law.