ALGIERS, Algeria — An Algerian court on Thursday convicted a high-profile university professor specializing in Islam of offending the Muslim religion, and sentenced him to three years in prison.
Said Djabelkhir was not immediately jailed and said he would appeal, according to a group of lawyers defending dozens of detained members of Algeria’s pro-democracy movement.
“I am a professor and not an imam,” using “reason and critical thought,” he was quoted in the press as saying as he left the courtroom.
Another university professor, joined by a group of lawyers, had filed suit against Djabelkhir for Facebook posts they deemed offensive to Islam.
Before his conviction, Djabelkhir told the French daily Le Figaro that it is “the first time in the history of Algeria that a university professor is (being tried) for giving his opinion in his own domain of specialization.”
Djabelkhir said he makes the distinction between history and myth in religious writing, but his detractors contend that “everything in the Quran is history, with a capital H.”
The Algiers office of Amnesty International spoke of a “scandalous” ruling.
“To punish someone for his analysis of religious doctrine is a flagrant violation of freedom of expression and religious liberty,” even if the comments are offensive to others, Amnesty said.
The conviction appeared to be a message that defending Islam is also a judicial matter in Algeria.
Some politicians, university teachers and journalists had expressed solidarity with the professor ahead of his trial, denouncing a “return of the Inquisition.”
Djabelkhir, widely followed on social media, is known for putting into question some dogmas of Islam. He also opposes the head covering warn by many Muslims, saying that it is not a religious obligation and “nowhere affirmed (as such) in the Quran or the Sunna” — references to the Muslim holy book and tradition and practices of the prophet of Islam.