PA Jails Atheist 'For His Own Good'

PA officials respond to human rights complaint, say atheist blogger is being held in jail for his own good.

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Maayana Miskin, | updated: 10:33

PA forces (illustrative)
PA forces (illustrative)
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Several weeks ago, Palestinian Authority police arrested 26-year-old Walid al-Husseini because of a series of anti-religious blog posts he had written. Now PA officials say Husseini is not in jail for his religious beliefs, but rather, for his own safety. If he is released, they say, he could be murdered.

“It is impossible to release him because we are afraid he will be killed by his family,” a PA officer told AFP. The officer said Husseini's family had disowned him.

He was arrested after the owner of the Internet cafe he frequented turned pictures of his Facebook page over to PA intelligence officers. The PA conducted a special operation, monitoring Husseini for weeks and finally arresting him as he sat in the cafe.

The PA had faced criticism over the arrest from Human Rights Watch, which said Husseini's right to free speech had been violated. In addition, HRW organizers said, under PA law Husseini was supposed to have been released after three days, as he had not been charged with a crime at that point.

Husseini has still not been charged with a crime. He was originally arrested for insulting Islam, which is prohibited under PA law.

Last week a new post appeared on Husseini's blog, ostensibly authored by him, in which he apologized “for the offense I have caused to all religions and especially to Islam” in his blog. Husseini condemned all religions equally on his blog, but explained his reasons for leaving Islam in particular detail, and criticized Mohammed, revered by Muslims as a prophet, as a “sex maniac” who was “no different than barbaric thugs.”

When Husseini was first arrested, several residents of his hometown of Kalkilya, just east of Kfar Saba, told journalists they hoped he would be put to death. His blog sparked condemnation online as well, with some opponents forming a Facebook group calling to “fight the blasphemer.”

A similar case was reported earlier in the year in Gaza, where a young man was arrested after posting an article on Facebook that was critical of Hamas.