Rights group accuses Oman of ramping up pressure on activists

Oman has been accused on ramping up pressure on online activists following the jailing of two people this month for their social media posts.

Human Rights Watch claimed in a statement that Omani activists are seeing a decline in freedom of expression in Oman.

On February 8, a court of first instance in Sohar in northern Oman, sentenced Hassan Al Basham, a former diplomat, to three years in prison for insulting God and the country’s leader, Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, in a series of Facebook and Twitter posts in which he discussed religious, political, economic, and social topics.

On February 17, the Court of Appeal in the southwestern city of Salalah sentenced Sayyid Abdullah Al Daruri, an artist and researcher, to three months in prison for a post he shared on Facebook that emphasized his regional Dhofari affiliation.

Dhofar, Oman’s largest governorate, has a strong cultural and linguistic heritage, and was the site of a rebellion in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Al Basham’s and Al Daruri’s sentences are just the latest examples of the ramped-up pressure on activists in Oman,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director.

“Omani authorities should stop prosecuting people for peacefully expressing their beliefs and make sure that there’s space for peaceful dissent.”

Since the 2011 popular uprising, Human Rights Watch said it has documented a pattern in which Omani security forces harass activists and prosecute activists and critics on vague charges such as “insulting the Sultan” and “undermining the prestige of the state".

It said authorities restrict online criticism and other digital content using article 61 of the 2002 Telecommunications Act, which penalises “any person who sends, by means of telecommunications system, a message that violates public order or public morals".

“Courts are basically criminalising peaceful dissent in Oman,” Stork said. “The Oman authorities should immediately release Jaddad and other activists who are imprisoned solely for exercising their basic rights.”

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