The country of Oman, along with other GCC neighbouring countries, shares its responsibility on the common repressive stream towards opposition groups and civil society’s activists. Freedom of speech is non-existent and the constant persecuting reprisals affect both human rights defenders and nationals in what is considered one of the most centralised and authoritarian governments. Through the government’s lens any form of freedom which directly antagonises and poses a threat to such institutional dominance must be eradicated at the source. As a matter of fact, the revised Article 97 of Omani Penal Code states: “punishment for anyone who either openly or by means of publication commits slander against the Sultan and his authority, or denigrates him personally, shall be imprisoned for a term of not less than three years and not more than seven years.”
Omani law’s asset is affected by a general vagueness and unprecise legal frame which allows a trend of illicit actions against activists, academics and journalists. Members of the opposition are frequently imprisoned and physically punished for expressing free and critical thoughts in relation to their work, writings or social media. These actions are classified as recriminations against the State or the Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said. Critical newspapers, like Azamn, have been reportedly shut down and several charges have been presented to many other activists with alleged crimes such as “misusing the internet” or “disturbing public order.”
Most recently many prominent activists have been detained in Omani prisons for directly or indirectly criticising the government. The case of Abdullah Habib, a well-known writer and online activist, may be set as an example. He was arrested in late 2015 and charged with the crimes of spreading hate, blasphemy and publishing online material that prejudices religious values or public order (the topic focused on human rights issues). On 4 May 2016, he was temporarily freed but a court later sentenced him to three years in prison on 8 November. On 2 April 2018, the Appeal Court in Muscat upheld the three-year sentence, but suspended two-and-a-half years of his sentence and sent him to Samail Central Prison to serve the remaining six months of his term. While in prison, Habib was routinely denied regular access to his medicine and saw a rapid deterioration in his health. He was later freed from jail in June 2018, following a pardon from Sultan Said Al Said during the occasion of the religious holiday Eid Al-Fitr.
The list of illegally detained activists goes on. For instance, the cases of Hassan Al-Basham, a prominent online activist and former diplomat, of Sultan Al-Maktoumi, journalist and of Salem Al-Arimi, human rights activist. Few of these detainees on a daily basis have to fight for their personal and public space of civil and individual freedom.
The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) denounces the illegal and inhuman reprisals enforced by Omani institutions. We are deeply saddened to hear that human rights are still posed under constant threat by state-run mechanisms. The aggressive infiltration is drastically troubling the operative work of NGOs and other political and non-political operative groups, something which still burdens the democratic evolution inside the country.