Two men were arrested for their online activities in Oman, and only one has been freed, say the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Omani Association for Human Rights (OAHR), who call for his release and an end to arrests of those who express themselves online peacefully.
On 09 August 2022, businessman and Internet activist Hani Al-Sarhani was arrested after being summoned by the Special Division of the Omani Police Command in the capital, Muscat. The Special Division is the executive arm of the Internal Security Services (ISS).
Al-Sarhani has used his Twitter account to appeal to officials to provide support to business people and citizens alike due to what he referred to as the difficult phase that everyone is going through.
On 05 August 2022, he posted on his YouTube account a recording of him speaking in a meeting that included a number of his fellow businesspeople, and later posted it several times on Twitter as well. His speech included an appeal of distress to Sultan Haitham bin Tariq and all officials on behalf of businessmen, announcing that they have reached a difficult stage amid the deterioration of the purchasing power of citizens. He also said that, “high prices broke everyone’s back” and “taxes reduced spending power.” Al-Sarhani added, “This led to consequences that we did not see in the past for everyone, including businessmen and citizens, who became unable to live a decent life.”
He also criticised the lifting of government support for public services and explained that, “the government’s efforts were not sufficient to manage the crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences and recover from it.” He concluded his speech by saying, “The economy is collapsing and exhausted and we are dying.” And “I am looking for my treatment and it is in the hands of the government, and they should listen to us.”
Reliable local sources confirmed his release on 10 August 2022.
In another separate case, on 04 August 2022, prominent environmental activist Dr. Ahmed Issa Qatan was arrested by the ISS.
His Twitter account is pinned with the following tweet: “Oman urgently needs fundamental reforms… through the Shura Council choosing the government and holding it accountable… electing all local councils and taking over the management of the provinces… Removing merchants from the state administration and ending hidden trade… Putting young people in all production jobs … Reducing duties and taxes to stimulate the economy.” He placed it over the portrait of the Sultan of Oman.
Reliable local sources stated that his arrest is related to his peaceful activities on the Internet, including the above tweet.
He was previously arrested on 23 February 2021, due to his relentless efforts to preserve normal life in Dhofar Plain and not to damage its current composition or change the lifestyle in it, which extends for hundreds of years. It will allow the creation of residential complexes in these green spaces. He was released on 03 March 2021.
While GCHR and OAHR welcome the release of businessman and Internet activist Hani Al-Sarhani, they call on the Omani government to release prominent environmental activist Dr. Ahmed Qatan immediately and unconditionally.
GCHR and OAHR also call for an immediate end to the policy of silencing voices and restricting public freedoms, including freedom of peaceful demonstration and freedom of the press. The authorities in Oman must respect public freedoms, including freedom of expression and opinion, both online and offline. The security forces must carry out their duties to protect citizens, not oppress them, as they peacefully demand their civil and human rights.