Three years in prison and a fine for the Algerian Islamologist Saïd Djabelkhir
by Kamel Abderrahmani

The judges of the Sidi M'hamed court found him guilty of "offending the precepts and rituals" of the Muslim religion. He will also have to pay a fine of 50,000 dinars. The defence lawyer is "shocked" by the harshness of the verdict and an appeal has already been announced. The struggle for freedom of conscience "is non-negotiable".


Algiers (AsiaNews) - Three years in prison and a fine of 50,000 dinars (just over 310 euros). This is the sentence imposed yesterday by the Sidi M'hamed criminal court of the Algerian intellectual and expert on Islam Saïd Djabelkhir. The judges found the 53-year-old journalist guilty of "offending the precepts and rituals" of the Muslim religion.

Adjourned on 25 February by the Sidi M'hamed court, the proceedings continued on 1 April with the final verdict of the public prosecutor who had sought the conviction of the intellectual. According to the magistrates, he allegedly "insulted Islam", following a complaint filed by a university teacher of Sidi Bel Abbes, Professor Abderazak Boubedjra, according to whom he used derogatory and offensive terms against the Muslim religion.

According to the accusation, he "despised" the faith and "mocked" the "authentic hadith of the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad, the pillar of the Hajj (pilgrimage)" in addition to the "ritual sacrifice of the sheep in Eid". In reality, his fault is that he tried to subject Islam to "questioning reason" and to a constant and critical question in order to bring Muslims, victims of dogmatism, to the light of knowledge.

Activists and intellectuals had strongly criticized the judicial process, underlining that he had expressed only a rational and critical discourse towards regarding the prevailing and dominant religious thought, the Sunni one. Commenting on the sentence, one of his lawyers, Moumen Chadi, said he was "shocked" by the severity and harshness. “There is no evidence, the file is empty. We expected an acquittal" at most a formal rebuke.

Speaking to the AFP upon leaving the court, Saïd Djabelkhir assured that he intends to challenge the judges' verdict on appeal and, in the event of a further conviction, he will take his battle to the supreme court. So far, the judges have not formalized the arrest warrant, so the man should remain at liberty. "It is a struggle - continues the intellectual - that must continue for freedom of conscience, for freedom of opinion and for freedom of expression", because the struggle for freedom of conscience "is non-negotiable".

Since the start of the case, Djabelkhir has garnered the support of many Algerian colleagues and politicians.