The French Publishers Association and the organisers of the Paris Book Fair announced, in Paris, on 19 July 2018 that the Ministry of Information of the Sultanate of Oman has signed an agreement to participate as a “special guest” at the 2019 Paris Book Fair, the Salon du Livre de Paris, scheduled to take place between 15-19 March 2019.
The Omani delegation confirmed its participation at the 2019 Paris Book Fair at a formal signing ceremony held at the headquarters of the French Publishers Association on. The Undersecretary of Oman’s Ministry of Information and the President of the French Publishers Association co-signed the agreement.
The authorities in Oman confiscated a large number of books during the twenty-third Muscat International Book Fair, which lasted from 21 February to 3 March 2018. They gave no explanation or reasons for the confiscation of the books. The authorities withdrew a range of Omani-authored books and novels, although a number of them had already been sold at previous exhibitions. Some of the confiscated works had won awards, while others had received critical acclaim. Others still were published by the Omani Ministry of Heritage and Culture, the same body that organised the Muscat fair, reflecting the contradictory and random nature of the books’ withdrawal.
Oman has witnessed a decline in press freedom in recent years and is now ranked 127th place, on the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2018 World Press Freedom Index. Freedom House has rated Oman as a non-free country on account of the ongoing targeting of independent commentators by the Omani authorities, who closed down Azamn newspaper and imprisoned its journalists; restricted the editor of the magazine Mwatin, threatening to imprison the same and prompting his emigration abroad. In addition to this, a large number of intellectuals and various activists were imprisoned for varying periods solely due to their writings on social media. Internet activist and human rights defender Hassan Al-Basham died in prison while serving his sentence of three-year imprisonment because of his writings expressing his views on Internet.
The Undersecretary of the Omani Ministry of Information stressed the importance of the Sultanate’s participation in the important Paris Book Fair to explain its vision and mission and to build a cultural connection with the Sultanate’s civilisation and culture. The reality, however, is that freedom of expression and the civic space in Oman is not shrinking but rather, it does not, for all intents and purposes, exist.
This is in stark contrast with the words of Oman’s Undersecretary of the Ministry of Information, which he made while in France, whose 1789 revolution helped pave the way towards the protection of fundamental freedoms, including freedom of opinion and expression.
The Omani Coalition for Human Rights, comprises the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), the Omani Association for Human Rights, the Omani Center for Human Rights and the Muwatin Center for Press Freedom.
The Omani Coalition for Human Rights calls on the Omani authorities to recognise the significance of its participation as a special guest at the 2019 Paris Book Fair and declare that it will end restrictions imposed on the enjoyment by writers and all those in Oman of fundamental rights and freedoms including freedom of the press, opinion, expression and assembly.
The Coalition likewise calls on Oman to fulfil its obligations regarding the provision and protection of civil space and non-harassment of human rights defenders, including writers, journalists and Internet activists.
The Omani Coalition for Human Rights also calls on the organizing committee of the 2019 Paris Book Fair to urge the Omani authorities to immediately stop the systematic campaign against all writers as well as the targeting activists.