Oman: Nine online activists calling for reforms sentenced to prison
Accused of crime of 'lèse-majesté'
The nine online activists, all arrested between May and July 2012 by Omani security services, were first charged on 12 June 2012 of crimes of "lèse-majesté", "violation of the Omani Information Technology Law", "offensive and inciting writings" and "undermining the value of the country". They were detained until their first hearing which was held at the Internal Security Forces Prison and the Shelter Center, under the authority of the Central Prison.
On 8 August 2012, the Primary Court of First Instance issued the sentences – ranging from 12 to 18 months of detention and 1000 Riyal fines - on the same charges. The detainees were however released on bail following this decision and pending their appeal, though most were suspended from work and banned from traveling.
Finally, on 16 January 2013, after the fourth hearing, the Appeal Court of Muscat upheld most of the convictions against the group, and ordered their re-incarceration.The judge however pardoned Mr Ishaq Al Aghbari, one of the activists, from executing his imprisonment sentence (meaning he was released after the hearing) and reduced the sentence of another, Mr Ali Al Hijji, by six months.
The activists sentenced to 12 months imprisonment and a 1000 Omani Riyal fine are:
- Mr Osama Al Tuwayyah (اسامة ال تويه), aged 21 (born on 11 June 1992), Muscat, university student, arrested in July 2012
- Mr Ahmed Al Ma'mari (احمد المعمرى), aged 25, Liwa, administrator at the special forces, arrested in July 2012
- Mr A'wad Al Sawafy (عوض الصوافى), aged 37 (born on 19 July 1976), Ibri, businessman, arrested in July 2012
- Mr Mokhtar Al Hana'i (مختار الهنائى), aged 25 (born on 02 July 1988), Nizwa, journalist, arrested on 11 June 2012
- Mr Ishaq Al Aghbari (اسحاق الاغبرى), aged 33 (born on 10 June 1980), Izki, businessman, arrested on 5 June 2012
The activists sentenced to 18 months imprisonment and a 1000 Omani Riyal fine are:
- Mr Hassan Al Raqieshy (حسن خميس بن محمد الرقيشى), aged 35, Izki, businessman, arrested on 8 June 2012
- Mr Mahmoud Al Jamoudy (محمود الجامودى), aged 37 (born on 13 June 1976), Nizwa, health advisor at the Ministry of Health, 11 June 2012
- Mr Isma'il Al Muqbali (اسماعيل المقبالى), aged 31 (born on 25 April 1981), Muscat, contract specialist in a petroleum company, arrested on 31 May 2012
- Mr Ali Al Hijji (على بن مبارك بن خميس الحجى), aged 35 (born on 17 December 1974), Manah, businessman, arrested on 8 June 2012
Calling for reforms, not planning to overthrow the throne...
In the context of the wave of protests that shook the Arab World in 2011, in 2011 and 2012 the Sultanate of Oman witnessed a series of peaceful protests, demanding democratic reforms and requesting real political participation of citizens. The nine online activists all took part in the gatherings organised outside Majlis Al Shura (the lower house of the Parliament, known as the Omani Council) building in the capital Muscat.
In addition to their participation in public demonstrations, the nine Omani were active on online platforms publishing articles and signing petitions calling for freedom of speech and denouncing corruption in Oman.
Released on bail pending the final decision, one of them. Osama Al Tuwayyah , published a short article online on 12 December 2012 in which he criticized and questioned the transparency and the accountability of the current Omani judicial system:
"To everyone... Our judicial system does nothing but protect corruption...To everyone...Our judicial system is not transparent or accountable in any form."
A few days later, on 20 December 2012 Ismail Al-Muqbali, another activist, wrote on his Twitter account:
"(...) the lower house will not be able to respond to the people's demands until it transforms its policies from mere reactions to initiatives and affirmative actions."
Osama, Ismail and the others are currently serving their sentence in Samael Central Prison, 70 km south the capital Muscat, where at least 35 other human rights activists are held on false accusations. Since their initial arrest last summer, all the members of the group have been detained arbitrarily for a total of at least 100 days, during which they were not allowed visits or contacts with the outside world.
Alkarama condemns the ongoing crackdown against human rights activists in Oman who are clearly targeted for their calls for greater civil and political rights in the country. Most activists – if not imprisoned - carry out their work under intimidation and threats of personal danger, despite its legitimacy. Worth mentioning is that another group of prominent Omani human rights defenders will receive their court verdict on 27 February 2013, after having already had 10 hearings in court.