Algeria: acquittal of humanist academic is a victory for the right to freedom of religion or belief

  • post Type / General news
  • Date / 6 February 2023

Humanists International welcomes the news that a court in Algeria has acquitted academic and humanist Said Djabelkhir of ‘blasphemy’ on appeal.

Said Djabelkhir is a leading expert on Sufism, and the founder of Cercle des Lumières pour la pensée libre (Circle of Enlightenment for Free Thought) an association for thinkers and academics who are advocating a progressive Islam.

On 1 February 2023, the Court of Algiers quashed his conviction.

Kacem El Ghazzali, MENA Advocacy & Casework Consultant

Reflecting on the case, Humanists International’s MENA Advocacy and Casework Consultant, Kacem El Ghazzali, stated:

“The tribunal’s decision to drop the charges against Djabelkhir is of paramount importance because it is proof that blasphemy laws can never be justified. Thus, this is not only a victory for Djabelkhir and his right to freedom of expression, but also a condemnation of the very charges against him. We hope that this case will be the beginning of the end of blasphemy laws in Algeria.”

The case dates back to 2020, when the Salafist Mohamed Ali Ferkous initiated a campaign challenging the observance of Yennayer, which he viewed as a pagan tradition. In response, Said Djebalkhir defended the practice based on religious principles, citing the example of pilgrimage and the celebration of Eid as examples of customs inherited from the pagan era.

Charges were filed against Said Djabelkhir by a computer science professor at the University of Sidi Bel Abbes, due to his alleged disrespect for Islam. According to Article 144 bis of the Algerian Penal Code (in French), Djabelkhir was accused of blasphemy, denigration of the dogma, and violation of the teachings of Islam.

During his trial in April 2021, he was sentenced to 3 years in prison, as well as a fine of 50,000 DA (approximately $367 USD). Faced with this conviction, an international campaign was organized in support of the Djabelkhir. Humanists International has been following Djabelkhir’s case closely and released several statements in support of his case.

Leading expert on Sufism, Said Djabelkhir

Speaking to Humanists International, Said Djabelkhir said,

“I would like to thank all the friends who have supported me since the beginning of the case. This decision by the Algerian Judicial Council is a historic decision because it constitutes a precedent in the history of Algeria. It is also a great victory for free thought and humanists in Algeria and in the Arab and Islamic world. This decision clearly indicates that the discussion and challenge of ideas is a matter for debate in the public sphere, not in the courts. This decision is also a victory of light over obscurantist thought. Thank you for your support.”

Humanists International welcomes the decision of the Algerian Court to overturn the conviction of academic Said Djabelkhir, and calls on the authorities to repeal the country’s blasphemy laws.

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

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