Oman: UN Experts Recognise Arbitrary Nature of MP Talib Al Ma'amari's Detention and Call for Immediate Release
A year after the two communications – on the arbitrary nature of Omani Parliamentary, Al Ma'amari's arrest and detention – sent by Alkarama in 2013 to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), both issued their decision stating that Al Ma'amari's detention was arbitrary and his right to freedom of expression violated. They consequently urged the Omani authorities to release him immediately.
Alkarama strongly welcomes the two decisions as MP Al Ma'amari's case is emblematic of the crackdown on peaceful dissent that the authorities imposed in Oman, especially since the 2011 demonstrations.
Elected to the Shura Council in 2011, Al Ma'amari remained a vocal advocate of the rule of law and the protection of the environment and public health in Oman. After having taken part in a peaceful demonstration as a mediator against the pollution caused by the petrochemical industries in his native city of Liwa, Al Ma'amari was arrested on 24 August 2013 and charged with the offence of "crowding". On 11 October 2013, soon after being released on bail in the early morning, he was summoned by the police and once again detained the same day. Since then, Al Ma'amari has been victim of other serious violations of his fundamental rights, including his right to a fair trial.
Held in solitary confinement in the Muscat National Security Prison, his lawyer authorised to see him during the whole period preceding his appeal. In December 2013, the Court of Muscat sentenced him to four years in prison and a 500 Rials (about 1,300 US dollars) fine for "harming the State's prestige" as well as one year for "disturbing public order" and "obstructing traffic". Retried a number of times, his final sentence was confirmed by the Court of Appeal on 31 October 2014 to four years in prison and a 700 Rials (about 1,800 US dollars) fine – one year and 200 Rials for "crowding", and three years and 500 Rials for "harming the State's prestige". He has since then been held in the Sama'il (سمائل) prison near Muscat.
Contacted by Alkarama, the director of the Monitor for Human Rights in Oman, Nabhan Alhanshi explained that "Al Ma'amari's trial did not respect the Omani Law, nor International Law. Right from the beginning of his detention, he suffered from enforced disappearance by being detained in a secret prison controlled by the Special Forces. The Internal Security launched a defamation campaign against Al Ma'amari by setting up a 'virtual army' to vilify him on numerous social media platforms. By using fabricated charges against Al Ma'amari, the authorities have violated the Constitution, negatively impacting the rule of law."
Following his arrest, Alkarama had sent a communication to the WGAD, on the basis that his detention was arbitrary, since not only what he did – demonstrating peacefully – should not have been prosecuted as a crime in the first place, but also the violations of his rights to a fair trial were of such gravity that his arrest and detention were undoubtedly arbitrary. To strengthen his defence, Alkarama has also sent a complaint on Al Ma'amari's behalf to the IPU's Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians on 7 October 2013.
Both instances – the UN Working Group and the IPU's Committee issued their opinions confirming that Al Ma'amari's detention was arbitrary. On 16 October 2014, the IPU's Committee, taking into account the circumstances of Al Ma'amari's arrest, prosecution and sentencing, even expressed strong concern that Al Ma'amari was "prosecuted and convicted on the basis of charges which may have infringed his legitimate right to freedom of assembly." This decision acknowledged the importance of Al Maamari's commitment as a parliamentarian and the necessary protection of his rights. The IPU had welcomed the invitation extended by the Omani delegation for a Committee delegation to visit Oman in a spirit of cooperation and dialogue with all relevant parties. However, after the Omani authorities denied Special Rapporteur, Maina Kiai's request to meet with Al Ma'amari during his official visit to Oman last September, the IPU's Committee underscored the "importance that the delegation also meets with Mr. Al Mamari himself." Alkarama hopes that their upcoming visit will allow the Omani authorities to reconsider their position on the continuous detention of Al Maamari.
Two months after the decision issued by the IPU's Committee, on 16 December 2014, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) issued a similar opinion, highlighting that article 137 of the Omani Criminal Code – "harming the State's prestige" – allowed a too broad interpretation, which could also result, as in Al Ma'amari's case, in a violation of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association as guaranteed by articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The decision thus reads that "It is on the basis of this law that, following the protest, many protesters were arrested for having exercised their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The Government does not deny that Liwa's population claimed only their right to live in a healthy environment." The WGAD's Opinion stated that Al Maamari's arrest and detention was arbitrary and consequently that he should be released.
Following these two decisions, the Alkarama Foundation is therefore urging the Omani authorities to reconsider Al Ma'amari's detention. Commenting on the importance of his case, the Regional Legal Officer for the Gulf at Alkarama, Radidja Nemar stated that "Al Ma'mari's situation is of particular importance because he was arrested for merely helping his fellow citizens, who elected him, to peacefully claim their rights to a safe and healthy environment. That is what a parliamentarian is supposed to do in a genuine democracy. By keeping him in prison despite these international decisions, it is the democratic process itself that is being jeopardized. It is now of primary importance that the Omani authorities acknowledge the arbitrary nature of Al Ma'amari's detention and release him immediately."
Alkarama repeatedly urged the Omani authorities to consider accessing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture (CAT) in the coming year, since it is one of the very few States in the world that has accessed none of the most basic instruments to guarantee the fundamental rights of its citizens. Above all, Alkarama hopes that the authorities will stop violating the rights and freedoms of its citizens for merely expressing their peaceful and legitimate demands for more democracy, accountability and rule of law in their country. We strongly support Maina Kiai's statement on his return from Oman: "I strongly believe that peaceful assemblies should not be perceived as a threat. Rather they should be encouraged — as a sort of a safety valve – for there is value in expressing disagreement and varying points of views peacefully and publicly. Indeed, there is no better gauge of what people think than peaceful protests."
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