SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: April 22, 2021

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution


Region & Country:Northern Africa | Algeria

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On April 22, 2021, Islamic scholar Said Djabelkhir was sentenced to three years in prison in apparent connection to his comments about Islam on social media.

Djabelkhir is a prominent scholar of Sufi Islam and has made public comments critical of some religious practices, including child marriage. A professor at the University of Sidi Bel Abbès reportedly pressed charges against Djabelkhir, accusing him of violating religious precepts through his Facebook posts. According to Amnesty International, in the Facebook posts in question, Djabelkhir called some of the stories in the Quran “myths” and some of the hadiths (statements attributed to the Prophet Muhammed) “apocryphal,” and made comparisons between Eid al-Adha and the Berber New Year celebrations. Djabelkhir reportedly learned about the prosecution in January 2020 and was never summoned for questioning.

On April 22, 2021, the Sidi Mhamed Court of First Instance convicted Djabelkhir of “offending the Prophet of Islam” and “denigrating the dogma or precepts of Islam,” under Article 144bis of Algeria’s penal code, and sentenced him to three years in prison and fined him 50,000 Algerian dinars. As of this report, Djabelkhir has not been taken into custody and is appealing the decision.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the prosecution and imprisonment of a scholar in apparent retaliation for nonviolent expressive activity — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Algeria is a party. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from retaliating against such conduct. In addition to the harm to the immediate individual, detentions intended to punish nonviolent expression undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.