The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Omani Association for Human Rights (OAHR) have received reliable local reports confirming that four Internet activists will face a new trial in Oman in the case known as “Ghaith spaces”.
On 21 August 2023, the Sohar Court of Appeal will hold its first hearing in the trial of four Internet activists, Ali bin Marhoon Abdullah Al-Ghafri, Maryam bint Youssef bin Ali Al-Nuaimi, Ghaith Matar Hamad Al-Shibli and Abdullah Hassan Jaber Al-Muqbali.
Ghaith Matar Hamad Al-Shibli, This appeal hearing comes after the Court of First Instance in Sohar issued its ruling sentencing the four Internet activists to three years in prison after charging them with “using the Internet and information technology means to produce what would prejudice religious values and public order” and “inviting [people] to participate in a meeting for the sake of opposing the Islamic religion and defaming the foundations on which it is based.”
The ruling of the Court of First Instance included the possibility of reducing this sentence if the four Internet activists purchased the book “The Death of Atheism” by its author, the Grand Mufti Ahmed Al-Khalili, who blatantly interfered with the course of the case against them.
GCHR and OAHR have previously documented that on 07 June 2022, the Sohar Court of Appeal sentenced Ali Al-Ghafri to five years in prison after convicting him of “insulting and offending God” and sentenced Maryam Al-Nuaimi to three years in prison after convicting her of insulting religions. The court decided to confiscate their phones and close their Twitter accounts. The court also decided to release two other Internet activists, Ghaith Al-Shibli and Abdullah Al-Muqbali, on bail.
Ali Al-Ghafri is still in prison serving his sentence. Maryam Al-Nuaimi received a pardon from the Sultan and she was released on 30 April 2023. This royal pardon was private, which means the entire case file should have been closed against her, but the Omani judiciary did not work to implement the clear order by the Sultan to exempt her from the sentence.
Reliable local sources confirmed that the reason for the prison sentence against Maryam Al-Nuaimi was a comment 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 damage to her health and psychological suffering, in addition to losing work.
The issue of “Ghaith spaces” is related to the peaceful activity of Ghaith Al-Shibli, who created this free space on Twitter that he devoted to various intellectual discussions, which were joined by Internet activist Abdullah Al-Muqbali, Ali Al-Ghafri and Maryam Al-Nuaimi.
GCHR and OAHR condemn the authorities’ systematic policies that place unlimited restrictions on freedom of expression on the Internet and beyond.
We call on the authorities to immediately release Internet activist Ali bin Marhoon Abdullah Al-Ghafri, and to overturn his sentence, and those of his colleagues Maryam bint Youssef bin Ali Al-Nuaimi, Ghaith Matar Hamad Al-Shibli and Abdullah Hassan Jaber Al-Muqbali.
The special Sultan pardon issued for Maryam Al-Nuaimi is obligatory and must be implemented by the Omani judiciary.
The authorities in Oman should ensure in all circumstances that human rights defenders, including online activists, can carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals or restrictions, including judicial harassment.