The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is protesting the imprisonment of a Palestinian blogger for alleged atheism. Waleed Khalid Hasayin has reportedly been detained by Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank since October 31. The 26-year-old computer science graduate is accused of posting anti-religious writings on the Internet. He faces a possible sentence of life in prison as well as the threat of vigilante killing.
IHEU president Sonja Eggerickx has written to Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, appealing for Waleed Hasayin’s immediate release. Eggerickx’s appeal notes that the Palestinian Authority has committed to uphold human rights and international law, and that these basic human rights include the right to freedom of religion or belief, and the right to freedom of expression. “Arresting, imprisoning and in any way mistreating Mr. Hasayin for his religious expressions is a gross violation of both these fundamental rights,” said the IHEU president.
According to news reports, the Palestinian Authority alleges that Hasayin, blogging under the pen name Waleed Al-Husseini, posted atheist arguments on English- and Arabic-language blogs. At its peak, the Waleed Al-Husseini Arabic blog had more than 70,000 visitors. Many of the “Al-Husseini” blogs criticize Islam, describing Allah as acting like a “primitive Bedouin” and criticizing the Prophet Muhammad as “a sex maniac” who bent his own rules “to appease his voracious desire.” Al-Husseini also called Islam a “blind faith that grows and takes over people’s minds where there is irrationality and ignorance.”
Hasayin is also accused of creating three satirical Facebook groups under the name “Allah.” These Facebook groups elicited hundreds of angry comments, death threats and the formation of more than a dozen Facebook groups in protest, including one called “Fight the blasphemer who said ‘I am God.’”
The “Basic Law” that functions as a constitution for the Palestinian Authority recognizes international human rights standards, which include freedom of thought and expression. However, Hasayin may face life in prison under an old Jordanian law against “defaming religion” which is still valid in the West Bank. In 2008, the same law was used by a Jordanian court to issue an international summons to 11 Danish journalists and publishers for drawing and reprinting cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.
“This arrest is yet more proof that ‘defamation of religion’ laws are an excuse to gag atheists and imprison critics of Islam,” said Matt Cherry, IHEU representative to the United Nations and lead author of the in-depth report Speaking Freely About Religion: Religious Freedom, Defamation and Blasphemy. “Atheists across the world must speak up for our fellow freethinkers who are denied the freedom to give voice to their conscience.”
While the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has pushed for the United Nations to outlaw “defamation of religion”, UN human rights agencies have condemned Muslim-majority countries for using “defamation of religion” to persecute dissenters. In the 2007 case of Kareem Amer, an Egyptian blogger accused of “defaming religion”, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found his arrest to be a contravention of his right to free expression, stating: “[d]efamation of religions may offend people and hurt their feelings but it does not directly result in a violation of their rights to freedom of religion. International law does not permit restrictions on the expression of opinions or beliefs which diverge from the religious beliefs of the majority of the population or from the State prescribed one.”
IHEU is exploring international channels to secure Hasayin’s freedom and safety.