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Atheist describes West Bank ordeal

A Palestinian atheist who was jailed and beaten last year for expressing anti-Muslim views on Facebook and in blogs has said Palestinian security forces are harassing him again, despite government pledges to respect human rights.

The blogger's renewed ordeal is part of a persistent climate of intolerance of dissent in the territories controlled by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, say human rights activists.

They say they have seen improvements, including a marked decrease in the mistreatment of detainees, but that Mr Abbas' security forces, who are partially funded by the West, must halt harassment and arbitrary detention.

Government spokesman Ghassan Khatib acknowledged occasional lapses, but said that in the past two years, "there's been great progress and success in reducing abuses".

Such promises mean little to atheist blogger Walid Husayin, who has lived in fear of the security forces since being released from a nine-month prison stint last summer.

"I'm sick and tired. My life has come to a halt," 28-year-old Husayin said in a phone interview from his home in the northern West Bank town of Qalqiliya.

Since his release on bail, he has been picked up several times by security agents and held for days at a time.

In one of those detentions, he was beaten with cables and forced to stand in a painful position on empty cans, said Mr Husayin, the son of a Muslim preacher.

Interrogators smashed his two computers and demanded that he stop expressing his views, he said.

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