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PA detains controversial blogger

Nov. 8, 2010 7:41 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 21, 2010 4:28 P.M.)
QALQILIYA (Ma’an) -- Residents of a conservative West Bank city were surprised recently when security forces detained a controversial blogger whose postings on Facebook had infuriated Muslims.

A high-ranking source in the general Palestinian intelligence services told Ma’an that the detainee, who was not identified, was arrested in Qalqiliya. The official refused to provide specific details or identify the detainee. However, Ma’an has learned from other security sources that the man “who claimed divinity” is a 25-year-old university student.

The sources said security services pursued the man for more than two months before they finally caught him at an internet café in Qalqiliya updating his Facebook profile on which he claimed he was God and that was angry with his subjects.

Conservative Muslims had been angrily following the blogger's postings, many of them altered verses from the Koran, the Muslim holy book, as well as caricatures of the prophet Muhammad that had been published in Danish newspapers. Hundreds of Facebook groups had asked that the man's account be deleted. Facebook closed his group, but the young man started a blog, Enlightenment of Reason.

Although he has not been identified by the PA, supporters of the blogger have indicated that he is 26 years old. He has identified himself as Waleed Al-Husseini and, in an August blog post, defended his beliefs.

"Muslims often ask me why I left Islam," he wrote. "What strikes me is that Muslims can’t seem to understand that renouncing Islam is a choice offered to everyone and that anyone has the right to do so. They believe anyone who leaves Islam is an agent or a spy for a Western State, namely the Jewish State, and that they get paid bundles of money by the governments of these countries and their secret services. They actually don’t get that people are free to think and believe in whatever suits them."

He added: "I would like to emphasize ... I did not mean to imply that Christianity or Judaism were better than Islam, and the reader should not fool himself into thinking that I only reject Islam among religions, all of which are to me a bunch of mind-blowing legends and a pile of nonsense that compete with each other in terms of stupidity."

Although secular political beliefs are not uncommon in the occupied Palestinian territories, the expression of views seen as hostile to the dominant religions is viewed by many as incitement rather than free speech.

The positions taken by the blogger were so out of the mainstream that many in Qalqiliya were surprised to learn that he was Palestinian. Even members of his family said the student, who worked as a barber, ought be prosecuted and sentenced, although it was not clear if he had been charged with a crime. It was also not clear if he had a lawyer.

The blogger has received some support online since his arrest.

A Facebook group, "In Solidarity With Waleed Al-Husseini," responded, "Criticizing religions is pretty much allowed in countries with Muslim majority; people publically criticize Christianity and Judaism in mosques, published books, national and pan-Arab TV stations, and even in public schools. It's criticizing of Islam that is only not allowed."

The post added: "Allowing such action is not only double standard, but a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also could make a dangerous precedent that may open the door for further persecution, than already is, for irreligious and other religious minorities in societies with major Muslim population."

George Hale in Bethlehem contributed reporting.
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