The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Omani Association for Human Rights (OAHR) have received reports confirming that the Internal Security Service (ISS) has arrested environmental activist Dr. Ahmed Issa Qatan.
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. The Special Division represents the executive arm of the ISS, carrying out arrest and detention orders for activists on its behalf.
Dr. Qatan, a resident of Dhofar Governorate and a specialist in desalination of sea water, opposes an official decision to prevent the grazing of camels in parts of the Dhofar Plain, within his efforts to preserve normal life and maintain the lifestyle in the area that has existed for hundreds of years. He also rejects plans by the authorities to build residential complexes in these green spaces.
His Twitter account, which he uses to spread his views on protecting the environment, is topped by the following pinned tweet, which he posted on 13 July 2019: “Sustainable development is based on maximising national income while minimising harm to the environment and society … and in the Dhofar Governorate, which is characterised by autumn rains and a moderate climate, proper planning requires preserving the green areas and their traditional heritage and making them a regional centre for natural recreation.”
On 21 February 2021, Dr. Qatan mentioned in another tweet: “We have yet to wait for the advance of autumn. If the decision remains, we must gather the herds of camels in front of the globe and we demand that His Majesty the Sultan get rid of the camels or get rid of the inherited administration in the governor’s office which remained preoccupied by the displacement of the rural population and the acquisition of the Dhofar Plain.”
He also published, using the hashtag: #TransOwnershipOfDhofarPlain10, the following tweet on the same day, “Two options are being tried to nullify the transfer of the Dhofar Plain to housing planning… The option of complaining to the closed government doors and repeating the attempts of the failed sheikhs … The other alternative is trying to uproot the thorny roots by heading to public opinion to reveal the link between the decision and suspicions of corruption and private interests.”
The Minister of State and Governor of Dhofar, Mohammed Bin Sultan Bin Hamoud Al-Busaidi, issued Ministerial Decree No. (14/2021) which included several decisions, among them “banning camel grazing in the Sahel region extending from Nashib to Raysut.” An officer in the Ministry said in a press statement that this decision comes, “within the framework of transferring the affiliation of the Sahel in the Dhofar Governorate to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning.”
GCHR and the OAHR condemn the arrest of Dr. Ahmed Issa Qatan, and consider it a violation of his basic rights to freely express his views and defend the environment and its components in his governorate. The Internal Security Agency must stop the policy of silencing voices and opinions, and targeting human rights defenders, including internet activists, which it has systematically followed in recent years.
The authorities in Oman must respect public freedoms, including freedom of expression and opinion, on and off the Internet.