Several news outlets are reporting that Palestinian blogger Waleed Hasayin is facing life in prison for insulting Islam and promoting atheism online.
But many people in Qalqilya seem convinced that this Facebook apostate is none other than a secretive young man who spent seven hours a day in the corner booth of a back-street hole-in-the-wall here. Until recently the man, Waleed Hasayin, in his mid-20s, led a relatively anonymous existence as an unemployed graduate in computer science who helped out a few hours a day at his father’s one-chair barber shop. Several acquaintances described him as an “ordinary guy” who prayed at the mosque on Fridays.
But since the end of October Mr. Hasayin has been detained at the local Palestinian Authority intelligence headquarters, suspected of being the blasphemous blogger who goes by the name Waleed al-Husseini. The case has drawn attention to thorny issues like freedom of expression in the Palestinian Authority, for which insulting religion is considered illegal, and the cultural collision between a conservative society and the Internet.
Hasayin, is the first person arrested in the West Bank for their religious views, though the PA have not allowed the blogger any visitors and claim that he told them that he did not need a lawyer. They also allege that he is being detained partly for his own protection.
The Western-backed Palestinian National Authority is among the more religiously liberal Arab governments in the region. It is dominated by secular elites and has frequently cracked down on hardline Muslims and activists connected to its conservative Islamic rival, Hamas.
Now, he faces a potential life prison sentence on heresy charges for “insulting the divine essence.” Many in this conservative town say he should be killed for renouncing Islam, and even family members say he should remain behind bars for life.
Over several years, Hussain is suspected of posting arguments in favour of atheism on English and Arabic blogs, where he described the God of Islam as having the attributes of a “primitive Bedouin.” He called Islam a “blind faith that grows and takes over people’s minds where there is irrationality and ignorance.”
If that wasn’t enough, he is also suspected of creating three Facebook groups in which he sarcastically declared himself God and ordered his followers, among other things, to smoke marijuana in verses that spoof the Quran. At its peak, Hussain’s Arabic-language blog had more than 70,000 visitors, overwhelmingly from Arab countries.
“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 that by writing this article, 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 religion is viewed by many as incitement rather than free speech.
Several Facebook groups have been launched in support Hussain. As of yet there is no official statements from Palestinian human rights groups in the West Bank about the arrest.