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Oman: Authorities carry out a new series of arrests of internet activists

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.