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HRW urges PA to release West Bank blogger

Dec. 5, 2010 9:38 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 6, 2010 4:57 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Human Rights Watch on Sunday urged the Palestinian Authority to release a blogger detained over his religious opinions.

PA intelligence officers arrested Walid Hasayin on 31 October at an internet cafe in the West Bank city of Qalqiliya.

Ahmad Mbayyad, the head of the PA's military judiciary, told HRW that Hasayin was suspected of posting online messages criticizing Islam and other religions.

"The general prosecutor was offended by the blog and began to follow the case, and in the end he and General Intelligence officers caught Hasayin red-handed in the internet café and arrested him," Mbayyad said.

Hasayin's Facebook group had been deleted at the request of other users, but he started a blog, Enlightenment of Reason. In an August post, he wrote that all religions "are to me a bunch of mind-blowing legends and a pile of nonsense that compete with each other in terms of stupidity."

Under the Jordanian Penal Code in force in the West Bank, insulting religious feeling is a criminal offense punishable by up to three months in prison and a fine.

Mbayyad said the military judiciary was handling the case "only by coincidence, because the military prosecutor opened the case." However, the file would be transferred to the civilian attorney general soon, the military judiciary chief told HRW on 24 November.

General prosecutor of the civilian judiciary Ahmad Mughanni told the rights group on 29 November that he had received no information about the case.

HRW said Hasayin has not been charged with any crime, and his continued detention violates Palestinian law which requires a suspect to be charged or released within 72 hours.

"The Palestinian authorities’ claim that Hasayin offended Muslims is no excuse for arbitrarily detaining him," said Joe Stork, deputy regional director at HRW.

The organization further questioned the PA's use of foreign assistance "to arbitrarily detain a man for peacefully expressing his views," noting that the US donated $350 million for security and program assistance and an additional $150 million in direct budgetary support to the PA in 2010.

"Because a prosecutor was ‘offended,’ the PA spent security and judicial resources to investigate and detain Hasayin in violation of both Palestinian and international law, and yet has not managed to charge him with any crime after more than a month," said Stork.

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