An Omani court has sentenced three environmental activists to prison, ranging from one to six months, with fines. In another case, an online activist was sent to prison for over a year, in violation of his right to freedom of expression. Another Omani citizen has also reported that he was tortured in detention in 2017.
On 31 March 2021, the Court of First Instance in Salalah sentenced poet and Internet activist Salem Ali Al-Maashani to one month suspended imprisonment and a fine of 1000 Omani Riyals (approx. USD$2700). The Court sentenced environmental activist Dr. Ahmed Issa Qatan to six months’ imprisonment and a fine of 1000 Omani riyals, with a payment of 500 Omani Riyals to appeal the verdict. The Court sentenced online activist Salem Tabuk to two months in prison and a fine of 1000 Omani riyals, with a payment of 500 Omani Riyals to appeal the verdict.
On 23 February 2021, Dr. Qatan was summoned to appear before the Special Division of the Salalah Police Command, where he was arrested upon arrival. On 28 February 2021, the security authorities in Dhofar Governorate arrested poet and Internet activist Al-Maashani. They were later released on bail.
The referral order by the Public Prosecution addressed to the court alleged that they had committed “a misdemeanor to use the Internet to publish information that would harm the public order,” under Article 19 of the Omani Cyber Crime Law.
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This trial comes a result of the Internal Security Service (ISS) campaign against activists who are seeking to preserve the traditional way of life in the Dhofar Plain that has existed for hundreds of years. Therefore, they reject plans to transfer authority over the Dhofar Plain to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning, which will allow the construction of housing complexes in these green spaces.
In another case, on 04 April 2021, online activist Muslim Al-Badi, who works as a nurse at Sohar Hospital, surrendered himself to the competent authorities to complete the remainder of his sentence, which is one year and three months, out of the original two-year prison sentence issued against him, and upheld by the Appeal Court in Sohar on 31 March 2021. Al-Badi comes from Saham, one of the states of the North Al-Batinah Governorate. He spent a period of four months in Al-Masarah Psychiatric Hospital and obtained a medical report confirming that he suffers from severe mental disorders. He was convicted of insulting the Sultan, during the reign of the former Sultan Qaboos, in connection with his peaceful activities on social media networks.
On 23 June 2020, Al-Badi wrote on his Facebook page “Where have you been for 49 years?” above a picture of a statement made by the Grand Mufti of the state, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Khalili, in which he said, “Cut off the house of financial corruption by arresting those manipulating public funds.”
Earlier, on 26 March 2021, Omani citizen Sultan Ambo Saeedi published two videos of himself on his Instagram account in which he alleged he was severely tortured in 2017. He claimed that he spent 30 days in detention at the ISS for interrogation, during which his nails were pulled out, parts of his body were subjected to electric shocks, and he was sprayed with a quantity of tear gas so large that he almost suffocated completely. He also indicated that he had filed a complaint and followed up on it since 2017, to no avail. Saeedi was forced to leave the country after successive summonses were carried out by the Special Division of the Omani Police Headquarters, which is the executive arm of the ISS.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Omani Association for Human Rights (OAHR) express their condemnation and denunciation of the arbitrary sentences issued against Internet activists Dr. Ahmed Issa Qatan, Salem Ali Al-Maashani, Salem Tabuk and Muslim Al-Badi. We also deplore the ISS’s continued restrictions on freedom of expression on and off the Internet. We strongly appeal to the Omani government to put an immediate end to the systematic targeting of bloggers and Internet activists by the ISS and to investigate and put an end to torture in Omani prisons.
GCHR and OAHR urge the authorities in Oman to:
Immediately and unconditionally release Internet activists Dr. Ahmed Issa Qatan, Salem Ali Al-Maashani, Salem Tabuk and Muslim Al-Badi;
Protect freedom of the press in the country as well as freedom of expression on the Internet; and
Ensure, in all circumstances, the ability of human rights defenders and journalists in Oman to carry out their legitimate work in the field of human rights without fear of reprisals and without any restrictions, including judicial harassment.