Omani Association for Human Rights Thu, 16 Jun 2022 18:17:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Oman: Two Internet activists sentenced to prison Thu, 09 Jun 2022 15:29:13 +0000

The authorities in Oman continue to target the public liberties of citizens on an ongoing basis. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Omani Association for Human Rights (OAHR) denounce the authorities’ use of the judiciary to sentence Internet activists to prison in violation of their rights to freedom of expression online and offline.

On 07 June 2022, the Sohar Court of Appeal held a session during which it sentenced two Internet activists to prison for blasphemy, and referred two others to another court.

Internet activist Ali bin Marhoon Abdullah Al-Ghafri was sentenced to five years in prison after the court convicted him of “insulting and offending God.”

Internet activist Maryam Bint Youssef Bint Ali Al-Nuaimi was sentenced to three years in prison after being convicted of insulting religions.

It also decided to confiscate their phones, and to close their Twitter accounts.

Reliable local sources confirmed that the reason for the prison sentence against Maryam Al-Nuaimi was a sentence she wrote in a WhatsApp group several years ago. Her right to privacy was violated as she was forced to give access to exchanges between members of this group during her interrogation by security authorities. Al-Nuaimi was also previously arrested and held in solitary confinement, and although she was released on bail at the time, she suffered health and psychological damage, in addition to losses in her work.

As for Internet activist Ghaith Matar Hamad Al-Shibli, the court decided not to prosecute him for the charges he was accused of, due to the lack of criminal responsibility, according to the text of the verdict. He was charged with “insulting and offending the Divine Essence” and “using the Internet and information technology means to incite and tempt the commission of debauchery.”

The court, due to its lack of jurisdiction, also referred misdemeanor cases against Internet activists Ghaith Matar Hamad Al-Shibli and Abdullah Hassan Jaber Al-Muqbali, to the competent Misdemeanor Court.

Both GCHR and OAHR denounce this arbitrary trial, and call for their sentences to be overturned, as well as for an end to the prosecution of Internet activists, which violates their legitimate right to freedom of expression.
The Omani government should work to respect public freedoms, and in particular freedom of expression, both online and offline.

Oman: On the occasion of IFJ’s 31st Congress in Muscat, Omani authorities must respect public freedoms Tue, 31 May 2022 06:00:00 +0000

The International Federation of Journalist (IFJ), based in Belgium, will hold its 31st Congress in Muscat between 31 May and 03 June 2022. The Omani Journalists Association (OJA) will represent Oman in hosting this event.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Omani Association for Human Rights (OAHR) take this opportunity to call on both IFJ and OJA, to highlight during the four-day event, the extensive human rights violation that are taking place in the country. We hope they will also urge the government of Oman to respect public freedoms, in particular freedom of expression offline and online, freedom of the press, and freedom of peaceful assembly.

In recent years, GCHR and OAHR have documented many violations to freedom of expression including attacks on the press, journalists, other media professionals and Internet activists. They have been summoned, harassed and imprisoned solely for expressing their views about public affairs on social media networks.

In 2016, the country’s only independent newspaper “Azamn” was shut down and its leading journalists Ibrahim Al-Maamari, Yousef Al-Haj and Zaher Al-Abri were imprisoned solely due to their purely journalism work.

In an arbitrary measure that greatly endangers freedom of expression, the Ministry of Information decided on 01 December 2021 to prevent the broadcast of the “All Questions” program, presented by prominent broadcaster Kholoud Al-Alawi on Hala FM Radio.

On 15 March 2022, journalist and human rights defender Mukhtar Al-Hinai was summoned by the Public Prosecution Department in Muscat for an investigation over a tweet. He was subjected afterward to a campaign of judicial harassment, in flagrant violation of his freedom of expression and jeopardising press freedom in Oman.

GCHR and OAHR urge authorities in Oman to:
Protect the freedom of the press in the country as well as freedom of expression offline and on the Internet; and
Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders including journalists, writers and online activists in Oman are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.

Oman: Authorities must stop targeting journalist and human rights defender Mukhtar Al-Hinai Fri, 06 May 2022 08:22:20 +0000

The Omani authorities continue to target human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers, and Internet activists in a systematic pattern that they have pursued for many years. Journalist and human rights defender Mukhtar Al-Hinai is subjected to a campaign of judicial harassment, in flagrant violation of his freedom of expression and jeopardising press freedom in Oman.

On 09 March 2022, Al-Hinai posted on his Twitter account the following statement, “The Muscat Court has issued a ruling convicting 8 defendants of a felony of embezzlement and forgery… that occurred in one of the ministries.”

Subsequently, on 15 March 2022, he was summoned by the Public Prosecution Department in Muscat to investigate this tweet. The investigation lasted two hours, after which he was informed that he had been referred to trial under Article 249 of the Omani Penal Code, which includes a prison sentence of no less than one month and no more than two years, and a fine of no less than one hundred (approx. 247 EUR) and no more than one thousand (approx. 2470 EUR) Omani riyals, for anyone who publishes rulings regarding the lawsuits that the court prevented them from publishing. Also, in another arbitrary measure, he was informed of his travel ban. He had to delete his tweet right after the investigation ended.

The Court scheduled the first session of his trial on 08 May 2022, but he received a second phone call informing him that his trial was postponed until 19 June 2022.

Reliable local sources confirmed that the lawsuit is a public one that was filed by the Public Prosecution, while other sources stated that the Ministry of Information had filed a judicial complaint against him.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Omani Association for Human Rights (OAHR) believe that the only reason for postponing his trial is because Oman is hosting the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)’s 31st Congress from 31 May to 03 June 2022 in the capital, Muscat, with the participation of more than 300 journalists representing more than 100 countries.

Al-Hinai is a well-known human rights defender, and one of the prominent activists of the 2011 mass popular protests. He was arrested several times after that, subjected to interrogation and targeting, yet he worked within the shrinking civic space in order to defend the civil and human rights of citizens.

GCHR and OAHR announce their full solidarity with journalist and human rights defender Mukhtar Al-Hinai and condemn the use of the judiciary to violate his rights. We call on all international mechanisms, including those of the United Nations, as well as the International Federation of Journalists, to exert their strenuous efforts to protect him and help put an end to the efforts of the authorities in Oman to silence him. We call for the lawsuit filed against him to be dismissed without conditions.

A fair judiciary can only be completely transparent when it comes to corruption in state departments and ministries, and in these cases, which are of public interest, the law should not be used to punish journalists who seek to reveal the truth to citizens.

The authorities in Oman should immediately stop their systematic campaign aimed at stifling the public freedoms of journalists and other citizens and severely restricting freedom of the press, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, and freedom of peaceful assembly. They must fulfill their obligations to protect civic space and not harass human rights defenders, including writers, journalists, and Internet activists.

Oman: The arrest of engineer and internet activist Ahmed Muslim Al-Kathiri Fri, 04 Mar 2022 12:07:36 +0000

On 28 February 2022, a tweet posted by engineer and online activist Ahmed Muslim Al-Kathiri stated the following: “After the court ruling today, which stipulated the rejection of the case, it became clear to us that the authority is still in control of the judiciary and not, as it is rumored, that the government has no authority over it. The policy of states is to bring the ruler and the people closer to consolidate national unity, and the injustice that takes place in the corridors of the judiciary does not cement it, but rather alienates it.”

Al-Kathiri, who works as a project engineer at the University of Technology and Applied Sciences in Dhofar Governorate, uses his Twitter account to express his personal views on public issues that concern citizens, especially the issue of Al-Morouj lands.

On the same day, the Administrative Court of the Dhofar Governorate dismissed the case filed by some citizens against the Minister of State and Governor of Dhofar, Mohammed bin Sultan Al-Bousaidi regarding the unlawful distribution of the Al-Morouj’s lands to influential people and high-ranking government officials.

Reliable local sources confirmed that on 02 March 2022, the security authorities arrested and detained Al-Kathiri. He has been completely isolated from the outside world and has not been allowed to contact his family or lawyer.
As soon as the news of his arrest spread, a large campaign of solidarity calling for his release was launched on social media. He has been described as a patriotic figure who wants the good and justice of the citizens.

Oman: Internet activist Abu Al-Yasa Al-Rawahi arrested Wed, 23 Feb 2022 12:41:54 +0000 On 17 February 2022, the security forces arrested Internet activist Dr. Abdulmajeed bin Hamoud Al-Rawahi (Abu Yasa Al-Rawahi) due to his criticism of the ruling family. He was released after four days of detention on 21 February 2022.

On 14 February 2022, Abu Yasa Al-Rawahi tweeted on his Twitter account a comment on a photo published on the same day on the Twitter account of the ruling family in Oman, in which he said: “The people are waiting for you to save them from what they are facing and not waiting for you to show family photos wherever you go…. the people are in debt and lack your initiatives and ideas, not photos of a parade.” Informed local sources confirmed that this tweet was the main reason for his arrest.

Abu Yasa Al-Rawahi uses his Twitter account to express his views and defend the civil and human rights of citizens. On 25 December 2021, he tweeted, “Where are the members of the Shura Council… are they alive or among the dead?” The tweet was posted in solidarity with prominent media figure Kholoud Al-Omari, after the Ministry of Information decided on 01 December 2021, in an arbitrary measure that puts freedom of expression in great danger, to remove from the air the “All Questions” program that she was presenting.

On 14 February 2022, Abu Yasa Al-Rawahi asked the following question in a tweet to him, “Why did the government not monitor the electricity, water and sewage companies and give them the right to dispose of fees and pricing on citizens, residents and institutions… Are there founders of these companies who have priority in doubling profits at the expense of the sons of the homeland and the residents?”

Abu Yasa Al-Rawahi lives and works as a specialised veterinarian in the city of Barka, where he previously obtained a doctorate from Murdoch University in Australia. Barka is a coastal city located 85 km from the capital, Muscat.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Omani Association for Human Rights (OAHR) condemn the arbitrary arrest and detention of Internet activist Abdulmajeed bin Hamoud Al-Rawahi (Abu Yasa Al-Rawahi) by the security authorities within a common and systematic pattern adopted that aims to withhold other opinions and completely restrict public freedoms, especially freedom of expression online and offline. The Omani government must seriously protect public freedoms, including the right of citizens to express their opinions freely without any security or judicial harassment.

Oman: “All Questions” program presented by broadcaster Kholoud Al-Alawi has been suspended Sun, 26 Dec 2021 09:00:00 +0000

In an arbitrary measure that greatly endangers freedom of expression, the Ministry of Information decided on 01 December 2021 to prevent the broadcast of the “All Questions” program, presented by the prominent broadcaster, Kholoud Al-Alawi, on Hala FM radio.

The “All Questions” program enjoys a wide following amongst the citizens of Oman due to the important and pertinent topics it raises for the daily lives of Omani citizens.

Local reports confirmed that the Ministry of Information informed the Radio administration of its decision over the phone. As soon as the news of the decision was circulated, the hashtag, #Solidarity _ with _ Kholoud_Al-Alawi, started trending on Omani Twitter.

The decision was issued on the same day that Al-Alawi hosted Shura Council member Dr. Mohammed Al-Zadjali on her program. During an interview with him, he criticized the presidency of the Shura Council and said, “The media outlets handed over their necks to the Ministry of Information.”

Furthermore, the Ministry of Information issued a circular on 23 December 2021, requiring the media to coordinate the hosting of members of the Shura Council with the Ministry. Observers consider this to be yet another restriction on media freedom.

Torture in the Sultanate of Oman: Lost Liberties and Suppression of Human Rights Activists Thu, 26 Aug 2021 10:33:44 +0000

The Omani Association for Human Rights has Produced a report on torture in Oman in Cooperation with the Gulf Centre for Human Rights With Support from the European Union in August 2021

Read the full report

Oman: Authorities carry out a new series of arrests of internet activists Thu, 19 Aug 2021 08:00:00 +0000

The authorities in Oman have continued their campaign of arrests of Internet activists, imposing strict control on citizens, including writers and intellectuals, who provide their opinions on public issues through social media. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Omani Association for Human Rights (OAHR) call on the authorities to respect freedom of expression.

The security forces arrested Internet activist Ghaith Al-Shibli on 23 July 2021 after they raided his home in Sohar. Reliable local sources confirmed to GCHR and OAHR that he is still being held in a prison belonging to the North Al-Batinah Governorate Police Command, which is based in Sohar province, the regional centre of the governorate. These sources further added that he is subjected to ongoing interrogation on several alleged charges against him, including insulting and ridiculing religions.

His arrest was followed by the arrest of a number of Internet activists who were participating in the dialogues that Al-Shibli was organising using the hashtag #Ghaith_spaces, which dealt with various intellectual and social topics. This contributed to the rise in his popularity, and the number of his followers on Twitter reached more than 7,000 followers.

Among those who were recently arrested for participating in Al-Shibli’s dialogues is Internet activist Maryam M., whose Twitter account was suspended after her arrest, which was followed by calls for her release on Twitter using the hashtag #Maryam_arrest. Internet activist Abdullah Hassan, whose Twitter account was also suspended upon his arrest, and the account of a third Internet activist who tweeted through his Twitter account under the name “A Liberal Mind”, was also suspended after his arrest.

In a separate case, on 09 August 2021, citizen Talal bin Ahmed Al-Salmani was arrested after he submitted a request to the director of Bausher Police Station in the Governorate of Muscat with his signature, requesting the organisation of a peaceful march on 11 August 2021. This was followed by a video recording in which he called on other citizens to participate in the march.

Also, online activist Khamis Al-Hatali published on his Twitter account, on 13 August 2021, a video including a speech he addressed to Sultan Haitham bin Tariq, saying, “We are the nation talking….You are oppressor.” He announced his quest to raise a sign bearing the slogan “Haitham is the oppressor” in Tharmad roundabout in Al-Suwaiq province the following day. Security forces quickly arrested him after more than 120,000 Twitter users watched the video.

Both GCHR and OAHR denounce this series of arbitrary arrests, and call for the authorities to immediately release all detained Internet activists, as well as to stop targeting them, as this violates their legitimate right to freedom of expression.

The Omani government should work to respect public freedoms, and in particular freedom of expression, both online and offline.

The Pegasus Project: MENA Surveillance Coalition demands an end to the sale of surveillance technology to the region’s autocratic governments Mon, 26 Jul 2021 15:00:00 +0000

We, the undersigned human rights organizations, call for an immediate halt to the use, sale and transfer of surveillance technology to autocratic oppressive governments across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). In light of revelations exposing the staggering scale of surveillance targeted at human rights defenders including journalists, bloggers and Internet activists facilitated by NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, we urge all states to enforce a moratorium until a clear human rights regulatory framework is established.

Since the 2016 investigation by Citizen Lab identifying one of the early uses of Pegasus by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to spy on prominent Emirati human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, now serving 10 years in prison in inhumane conditions, the surveillance industry has only flourished, undeterred. Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories’ breaking investigation, the Pegasus Project, exposed the leaked data of 50,000 phone numbers identified as potential surveillance targets, including four NSO Group government clients from the MENA region —  Bahrain, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Journalists and activists are being targeted

Amongst the Pegasus Project’s shocking revelations, the mass scale surveillance operations by the Moroccan authorities with a target list of 10,000 phone numbers including those of world leaders, activists and journalists, stood out. 

The analysis identified at least 35 journalists who were targeted with Pegasus by the Moroccan government, and later prosecuted under questionable circumstances or subjected to state-sanctioned campaigns of intimidation and harassment, including Taoufik Bouachrine and Soulaimane Raissouni, Akhbar El-Youm newspaper editors. Bouachrine was sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of human trafficking, sexual assault, rape and prostitution. His colleague Raissouni was also arrested on sexual assault charges in May 2020, and was sentenced to five years in prison on July 9, 2021. Both of their prosecutions were marred by violations of due process and fair trial rights.

Moroccan journalist and human rights activist Omar Radi was also sentenced on July 19, 2021 to six years in prison on dubious charges of espionage and rape. In June 2020, Amnesty International revealed that Radi was targeted using NSO spyware just three days after NSO Group released its human rights policy. 

Further frightening evidence unearthed by the Pegasus Project shows that friends and family members of the slain and dismembered Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, were targeted with Pegasus spyware before and after his murder. According to a forensic analysis by Amnesty International’s Security Lab, the iPhone of Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, was targeted and successfully infected four days after Khashoggi’s murder, and multiple times in the subsequent days. Other targets include his son Abdullah Khashoggi, his wife Hanan Elatr, his friend and former director-general of Al Jazeera, Wadah Khanfar, and the British human rights lawyer Rodney Dixon who represented Cengiz in filing legal action against the murder of Khashoggi. 

These revelations demonstrate that no one is safe, with even the names of people who have fled the country for their own safety, surfacing in the leak. Paris-based investigative journalist and co-founder of the Moroccan Association of Investigative Journalists Hicham Mansouri, who after years of harassment, violence and imprisonment sought asylum in France, was identified as a surveillance target. 

Other notable surveillance targets who appear on the leaked Pegasus list include Alaa Al-Siddiq, an Emirati activist and the executive director of ALQST, who was killed in a traffic accident in June 2021, and ALQST founder and Saudi human rights defender Yahia Assiri. Both Al-Siddiq and Assiri relocated to the UK to flee persecution. 

NSO’s justifications are groundless

The scandalous targeting of hundreds of journalists and activists in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Algeria, Bahrain, UAE, Lebanon, Morocco, Turkey and Egypt — many who have long been the subject of surveillance, harassment, arrest, torture and assassination — refute the repeated groundless claims made by the NSO Group that its spyware is exclusively used to deter crime and terrorism. Their proclaimed statements that they are willing to investigate misuse of their technology and take action accordingly appear unfounded against the backdrop of last week’s mammoth exposé. 

These dangerous tools should not be readily available in the MENA region

In the absence of any oversight or regulation of the thriving, opaque surveillance tech industry, autocratic governments in the region have found their go-to tools to further repress human rights defenders and journalists, and suppress freedom of expression and the media with full impunity. 

In authoritarian contexts where there is no transparency nor oversight over the use of this highly invasive technology, no privacy safeguards, no fair trial and procedural safeguards, and no avenues for victim remediation, the sale and use of surveillance technology leads to serious human rights violations, and must be immediately ceased.

It has been two years since the first call for an immediate moratorium on the sale, transfer and use of surveillance tools by the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, following the atrocious murder of Jamal Khashoggi. It is now high time for States to heed the call and immediately enforce the moratorium until there is a global human rights regulatory framework in place.

We, therefore, urgently call on all States to take the following steps:

  1. Implement an immediate moratorium on the use, acquisition, sale and transfer of surveillance technology. This moratorium should extend until adequate global controls and safeguards against abuse are in place.
  2. Revoke all export licenses of surveillance technology and business ties to non-democratic states in the MENA region that systematically commit human rights violations.
  3. Initiate an independent, transparent and impartial investigation into cases of targeted surveillance, particularly in the cases of extraterritorial targeting of journalists, human rights defenders and political asylum seekers, and ensure that victims of unlawful surveillance have access to remedy and reparation.
  4. Adopt a legal framework that requires transparency about the use and acquisition of the surveillance technologies, and proactively make this information available in public registers, including on products and services purchased as well as business contracts with private surveillance companies, to allow for public scrutiny and accountability.
  5. Engage in and support international regimes and human rights mechanisms that put controls on the use, development and export of surveillance technologies.
  6. Initiate a follow-up criminal investigation into the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and the targeted surveillance of his family members and associates; and renew international efforts, through judicial and diplomatic means, to achieve justice and accountability.
  7. International mechanisms including the UN system and relevant governments must put an end to the targeted surveillance of human rights defenders including journalists, bloggers and Internet activists.

Coalition Members:

  1. Access Now
  2. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
  3. Masaar-Technology and Law Community
  4. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  5. INSM Network (Iraq)
  6. SMEX
  7. Red Line for Gulf
  8. Jordan Open Source Association (JOSA)
  9. Article 19

Signed by:

  1. Muwatin Media Network
  2. MENA Rights Group
  3. Skyline International for Human Rights
  4. Pen Iraq
  5. Oman Association for Human Rights (OAHR)
  6. Metro Centre to Defend Journalists
  7. Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR)
  8. ACAT Germany (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture)
  9. Omani Centre for Human Rights (OCHR)
  10. Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Researches
  11. Yemen Organisation for Defending Rights and Democratic Freedoms
  12. Iraqi journalism rights defence association
  13. Yemeni Institute for Strategic Affairs
  14. International Center for Justice and Human Rights (ICJHR)
  15. Salam for Democracy and Human Rights
  16. Bahrain Press Association (BPA)
  17. International Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL)
  18. El Nadim center for rehabilitation of victims of violence, Egypt
  19. Syrian Center for Democracy and Civil Rights in Syria
  20. No to Violence group
  21. Youth Without Borders – Tunisia (JSF)
  22. Sada Organisation to Support Woman & Child
  23. ACAT Belgique (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture)
  24. ACAT Italia (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture)
  25. Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
  26. ALQST for Human Rights
  27. Organisation for Rights and Liberties
  28. Baynana
  29. Samir Kassir Foundation
  30. Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor
  31. ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies
  32. No Peace Without Justice
  33. International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE) 

Oman: Internet activist Ghaith Al-Shibli arrested and writer Saud Al-Zadjali targeted online Mon, 26 Jul 2021 08:01:21 +0000

home in Sohar. Reliable local reports confirmed that he is still being held by the North Al-Batinah Governorate Police Command in Sohar, which is the regional centre of the governorate.

Al-Shibli has a Twitter account with more than 7,000 followers, which he uses to peacefully express his views. He also uses the hashtag (#Ghaith_spaces) to organise dialogues on various topics that gained wide popularity in Oman, and which likely led to his arrest. The authorities have not announced the nature of the charges against him, but it is widely believed that they are related to his opinions and those of the participants in his conversations online.

Upon his arrest, a hashtag was launched in Oman on Twitter calling for his release, and a large number of citizens, including bloggers, circulated the call: #Freedom_Ghaith_Shibli

Another hashtag was launched on Twitter calling for the writer Dr. Saud Al-Zadjali to be prosecuted because of his personal opinions published on his Twitter account, where he is followed by more than 25,000 people. On 25 July 2021, he announced in a tweet that he would take legal measures against anyone who distorts his views or threatens him because of them.

Both the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Omani Association for Human Rights (OAHR) denounce the arrest of Internet activist Ghaith Al-Shibli, which violates his right to freedom of expression, and call for his immediate release. GCHR and OAHR also call for an end to the targeting of writer Saud Al-Zadjali in violation of his right to freedom of expression.

The Omani government should work to respect public freedoms, in particular freedom of expression, both online and offline.