The Annual Report 2016

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    The human rights situation in Oman,

    Annual Report 2016

     

     

    • Independent newspaper shut down; online newspaper and magazine suspended
    • Activist tried and imprisoned on a charge of atheism
    • Two journalists jailed; others persecuted, interrogated and intimidated
    • Writers and intellectuals given harsh sentences for matters of freedom of conscience

     

     

    January 14 (Mowatin magazine):

     

    The online magazine Mowatin ceased publication in order to ensure the safety of its journalists and staff, according to a statement issued by its editor-in-chief, Mohammed al-Fazari.  Several of its journalists had suffered harassment from the security services by being detained and interrogated.

     

    February 8 (Hassan al-Basham):

     

    Activist and former diplomat Hassan al-Basham sentenced to three years in prison, on the following three counts:

     

    –  open blasphemy (three years in prison and a fine of OR500 ($1,300));

    –  insulting the Sultan (three years in prison and a fine of OR500 ($1,300)); and

    –  using the Internet in a manner prejudicial to religious values (one year in prison and a fine of OR1,000 ($2,600)).

     

    Al-Basham was subsequently arrested on May 3 and held pending the outcome of his appeal, which resulted in his sentence being upheld on June 13.

     

    February 17 (Said al-Daroudi):

     

    The Salalah Court of Appeal sentenced the writer, scholar and satirical cartoonist Said al-Daroudi to three months in prison for a Facebook post headlined “I’m Dhofari, not Omani”.  Al-Daroudi had previously been detained and on March 18, 2015 sentenced in absentia by the Court of First Instance in Salalah, to a year in prison on the count of disturbing public order, six months for sedition and hatred, and a fine of OR1,000 ($2,600).

     

    March 10 and 12:

     

    Hilal al-Alawi, Awad al-Sawafi and Ammar al-Hina’i, a group of activists and former prisoners of conscience, detained because of posts on Facebook and WhatsApp in which they celebrated the February 26 anniversary of the 2011 protest movement in Sohar.  They were released a few days later.

     

    April 15 (Abdullah Habib):

     

    Writer and film critic Abdullah Habib al-Mo’ini summoned and held for questioning over Facebook posts in which he talked about the Dhofar Rebellion (in the 1960s and ’70s) and called on the Omani government to fulfil its moral obligation to reveal where the “martyrs of the Popular Front” of 1972 and 1974 were buried.  He was released on May 3 (but see also July 11).

     

    April 28 (Sulaiman al-Ma’mari):

     

    Writer and journalist Sulaiman al-Ma’mari summoned and held for questioning for condemning the arrest of Abdullah Habib (see above) and circulating a petition, which was signed by Omani and other Arab intellectuals, calling for Abdullah’s release.  Sulaiman was released on May 19.

     

    May 3:

     

    Activist and former diplomat Hassan al-Basham arrested (see February 8 for details).

     

    May 4 (Talib al-Maamari):

     

    Former Shura Council member Talib al-Maamari released from jail after being granted a pardon by Sultan Qaboos bin Said, two and a half months before completing his sentence.  He was arrested on August 24, 2013 for organising a protest on August 22 by residents of Liwa Province affected by the toxic and polluting gases from petrochemical plants in the industrial area of Sohar port.  According to witnesses, al-Maamari attended the protest to mediate between the protesters and the government.

     

    May 12 (Saoud al-Jamoudi):

     

    Citizen Saoud al-Jamoudi arrested for using a WhatsApp group to organise a protest rally in Nizwa Souq (Al-Dakhiliya Governorate) calling the Khimji Ramdas Company to account over a case involving spoiled rice.  Saoud was subsequently tried and sentenced to three months in jail on a charge of incitement to a mass gathering.  He was transferred to Samail Central Prison after spending 22 days in solitary confinement in the detention cells of the Police Special Section in al-Qurum, Muscat Governorate.  He was released at the end of his sentence on September 1.

     

    June 13 (Hassan al-Basham):

     

    The Sohar Court of Appeal (Al-Batinah North Governorate) upheld the three-year jail sentence previously passed on Hassan al-Basham (see February 8 for details).

     

    July 11 (Abdullah Habib):

     

    Writer and film critic Abdullah Habib summoned and held for questioning in connection with Facebook comments in which he criticised Islamic rites and practices such as fasting, praying and the call to prayer (adhan).  He was released on July 28 and his case referred to the Court of First Instance, which, after several sittings, sentenced him to prison (see November 8).

     

    July 25 (Al-Mu’tasim al-Bahlani):

     

    Former editor-in-chief of online magazine Al-Falaq Al-Mu’tasim al-Bahlani summoned and held for questioning over tweets coinciding with Oman’s so-called Renaissance Day, marked on July 23 each year. Al-Bahlani was released on July 28, and a few days later it was announced he had resigned as editor-in-chief of Al-Falaq.

     

    July 28 (Ibrahim al-Maamari):

     

    Editor-in-chief and chairman of Azamn newspaper, the poet Ibrahim al-Maamari, summoned and held for questioning because of a report published on July 26 under the headline “Supreme bodies tie the hands of justice”.  The report pointed to corruption in the judiciary, and referred to individuals including the head of the Supreme Court and vice-chairman of the Higher Judicial Council, Ishaq al-Busaidi.  Al-Maamari was subsequently put on trial (see September 26 and December 26).

     

    August 3 (Zaher al-Abri):

     

    Azamn journalist Zaher al-Abri summoned and held for questioning because of a tweet in which he criticised the detention of Azamn editor-in-chief Ibrahim al-Maamari.  Al-Abri was subsequently put on trial (see September 26 and December 26).

     

    August 9 (Youssef al-Hajj):

     

    Azamn journalist and managing editor Youssef al-Hajj kidnapped from a barber’s shop after publishing a two-part interview with deputy head of the Supreme Court Ali al-No’mani on August 7 and 9, in which al-No’mani endorsed a number of the points made in Azamn’s earlier report “Supreme bodies tie the hands of justice”.  Al-Hajj was subsequently put on trial (see September 26 and December 26).

     

    The information minister, Abdul Munim al-Hasani, also issued ministerial order No. 80 of 2016 closing down Azamn, banning it from publishing and shutting down its website.  He said the order was based on Royal Decree No. 35 of 2009 and the Press and Publications Law No. 49 of 1984.

     

    August 14 (Hamoud al-Shukaili):

     

    Fiction writer Hamoud al-Shukaili kidnapped on a street in Muscat Governorate because of a poem he had written and posted on Facebook in solidarity with the detained Azamn journalists.  Hamoud was subsequently put on trial (see October 18).

     

    August 18 (Mohammed al-Harthi):

     

    Writer and poet Mohammad al-Harthi summoned and held for questioning then released the following day.  He was arrested because of a series of tweets in which he expressed solidarity with the journalists of Azamn newspaper and Hamoud al-Shukaili (see above).

     

    August 26 (Said Jadad):

     

    Rights activist Said Jadad (Abu Imad) was released having completed his sentence.  Jadad was arrested on January 21, 2015 in a raid on his house by the riot police, for views he had expressed on the actions of the security authorities and also the religious establishment.  He was placed under a travel ban in 2014 and arrested on numerous occasions before being sentenced to jail in two different courts (the Courts of First Instance of Muscat and Salalah).

     

    September 26 (the Azamn journalists):

     

    The Court of First Instance in Muscat handed down jail sentences on the journalists detained in the Azamn case and endorsed the information minister’s order closing the newspaper.  The sentences were as follows:

     

    –  Azamn’s editor-in-chief and chairman, Ibrahim al-Maamari: three years in prison, a fine of OR3,000 ($7,800), and a ban on engaging in journalism for one year, with bail pending appeal set at OR50,000 ($130,000), later reduced to OR2,000 ($5,200).  Al-Maamari was charged with four offences:  disturbing public order, misusing the Internet, publishing details of a personal status lawsuit, and undermining the prestige of the State.

     

    –  Azamn’s managing editor, Youssef al-Hajj: three years in prison, a fine of OR3,000 ($7,800), and a ban on engaging in journalism for one year, with bail pending appeal set at OR50,000 ($130,000), later reduced to OR2,000 ($5,200).  Al-Hajj was charged with six offences:  disturbing public order, misusing the Internet, publishing details of a personal status lawsuit, undermining the prestige of the State, publishing information about a matter subject to a ministerial ban on publishing, and slandering the head of the Supreme Court.

     

    –  Azamn journalist Zaher al-Abri: one year in prison and a fine of OR1,000 ($2,600), with bail pending appeal set at OR5,000 ($13,000).  Al-Abri was charged with misusing the Internet to publish material prejudicial to public order.

     

    (See December 26 for the outcome of the appeals.)

     

    October 5 (Saud al-Zadjali):

     

    Writer and academic Saud al-Zadjali summoned and held for questioning over essays of religious criticism published in Al-Falaq online magazine and in particular the third essay, which consisted of reflections on the deliverance of formal legal opinions (fatwas) in Sharia law.  He was released on October 19.  Saqr al-Balushi, a former prisoner of conscience and former municipal councillor for Liwa Province, was also summoned and was also subsequently released, at the beginning of November.

     

    October 18 ((Hamoud al-Shukaili):

     

    The Court of First Instance in Muscat sentenced fiction writer Hamoud al-Shukaili to three years in prison and a fine of OR1,000 ($2,600), with bail set at OR5,000 ($13,000).  Al-Shukaili posted bail and appealed the same day, with January 4, 2017 set as the date for the verdict to be delivered.

     

    October 30 (Al Balad online newspaper):

     

    In a brief article, the editor-in-chief of online newspaper Al Balad announced his decision and that of the editorial team to close down Al Balad, after four years and five months in operation.  The main reason for this was not spelled out, although the article referred to “pressures” being exerted on the publication.

     

    Al Balad, founded on May 7, 2012, was the country’s first independent online newspaper.  Its work was professional and journalistic, unlike the traditional style of journalism, and it produced distinctive, engaging and substantial articles on a wide variety of topics.

     

    OCHR has information that Al Balad’s editor-in-chief, Turki al-Balushi, was summoned by the Mukhabirat (Internal Security) and held for questioning for three days, and it was after his release that he published the announcement of Al Balad’s closure.  According to our source, the main reason, among others, for al-Balushi being called in for questioning was a report by Al Balad that was translated and quoted by Reuters, which suggested Oman was one of the countries from which weapons were being smuggled into Yemen.

     

    November 8 (Abdullah Habib):

     

    The Court of First Instance in Muscat sentenced writer and film critic Abdullah Habib to three years in prison and a fine of OR2,000 ($5,200), with bail pending appeal set at OR1,000 ($2,600).  He was charged with offences relating to contempt for religion and spreading hatred and blasphemy, and also under Article 19 of the Cybercrime Law with regard to using information technology in a manner prejudicial to public order in the State.  After several adjournments in the Court of First Instance, the date for the verdict to be delivered was set as January 2, 2017.

     

    December 16 (the “doctors of distinction”):

     

    More than nine newly qualified doctors who had graduated with distinction staged a protest outside the health ministry over the failure to appoint them formally when they first took up their posts, and the failure to pay them their salaries since they started work five months previously.

     

    A number of these “doctors of distinction” had gone on strike briefly in November in protest over the lack of any official order appointing them or any payment of their salaries for the period they had worked.  A source told OCHR that the doctors would continue their protest this time, and would be going on strike from January 15, 2017 until their demands were met.

     

    December 26 (the Azamn journalists’ appeal):

     

    The Muscat Court of Appeal ruled on the closure of Azamn newspaper and the arrest of its editor-in-chief, managing editor and head of local news as follows:

     

    –  It cancelled the order from information minister Abdul Munim al-Hasani on August 9 closing the newspaper, and ruled that Azamn could resume activities two weeks after the appeal decision;

    –  It reduced editor-in-chief Ibrahim al-Maamari’s prison term to six months, having dismissed three of the charges against him;

    –  It reduced managing editor Youssef al-Hajj’s prison term to one year, having dismissed five of the charges against him; and

    –  It overturned the conviction of the paper’s head of local news, Zaher al-Abri.