The Annual Report (2017)
Do not allow anyone to make your rights not a priority.
Human rights violations, one of the most serious challenges faced by activists, writers and journalists in all regions of the world, even those that adopt civilized political systems. In the Middle East, however, human rights violations have become a common occurrence. Since 2013, the OCHR-Oman has taken the task of documenting the violations and publishing them in an annual report, to document these violations of history, and a reference if needed or interested in researchers. It is also our deep belief that the documentation of these violations is a way to document the history of human rights.
The Center presents its fourth annual report, this time the 2017 and its violations, bearing in mind that the report dropped some of the issues at the discretion of the victims of these cases.
Freedom of religion and belief, including the freedom to hold atheistic views:
- Abdullah Habib:
Writer and film critic Abdullah Habib has seen his appeal hearing postponed several times since January 2017. Each time the date for his session in court comes round, it is postponed yet again and the final verdict is further delayed. Abdullah Habib was tried on charges relating to contempt for religion, spreading hatred, and blasphemy, and also with contravening Article 19 of the Cybercrime Law by using information technology in a manner prejudicial to public order in the State. He was sentenced on November 8, 2016, to three years in prison and a fine of 2,000 Omani riyals ($5,200), with pending bail appeal set at 1,000 Omani riyals ($2,600). As this report is being written, his appeal is still pending.
- Hassan al-Basham:
On January 17, 2017, the Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Court of Appeal against activist and former diplomat Hassan al-Basham and ordered the case to be sent back for a new determination with a new panel of judges. However, the Court of Appeal again confirmed the original decision of the Court of First Instance, which the Supreme Court had quashed!
The Muscat Court of First Instance had convicted and sentenced Basham on February 8, 2016, as follows:
– open blasphemy (three years in prison and a fine of 500 Omani riyals ($1,300));
– insulting the Sultan (three years in prison and a fine of 500 Omani riyals ($1,300)); and
– using the Internet in a manner prejudicial to religious values (one year in prison and a fine of 1,000 Omani riyals ($2,600)).
The Court of Appeal first upheld these sentences on June 13, 2016.
Freedom of opinion, freedom of speech and freedom of the press:
- Hamoud al-Shukaili:
On 18 January, The Court of Appeal confirmed the previous initial ruling against the writer and novelist Hamoud al-Shukaili but with the suspended sentence. The Muscat Court of First Instance had convicted Shukaili of using information technology to publish material harmful to public order, and sentenced him to three years in prison and a fine of 1,000 Omani riyals ($2,600), setting bail at 5,000 Omani riyals ($13,000) pending appeal. Hamoud al-Shukaili’s passport was later withdrawn after the Omani Prosecutor General decided this would be better than taking away his national identity card. Shukaili has not had his passport returned to him since February.
- Badr al-Shaibani:
On January 5, 2017, the Chairman of Oman’s Public Authority for Radio and Television, Dr Abdullah al-Harrasi, gave orders for Omani broadcaster Badr al-Shaibani to be dismissed from a radio programme after he broadcast a report on the sex trade in Oman.
- Mansour al-Mahrazi
On May 23, 2017, the Muscat Court of First Instance sentenced Omani writer Mansour al-Mahrazi to three years in prison and a fine of 500 Omani riyals ($1,300), setting bail at 5,000 Omani riyals ($13,000) in case of appeal. He was charged with insulting the Sultan and damaging the prestige of the State.
Mansour al-Mahrazi is the author of two books: the first, written in 2014, was entitled State and Society in Oman (From the Nabhanid Era to the Modern Age), and the second, in 2016, was called Oman in the Square of Corruption: Politics, Development and Underdevelopment (Disclosure of Facts and Criticism of Axioms). The second book was later withdrawn from sale, and the OCHR believes it to have been the main reason for Mahrazi’s arrest. According to the OCHR’s information, the Public Prosecutor received a copy of the book from an unidentified person claiming to have bought it at the Sharjah International Book Fair. Mahrazi’s lawyer denied this in court, saying that the book had not been shown at the Sharjah Fair or any other book fair, and he asked the judge for the person who delivered the book to the Public Prosecutor to be brought in as a witness. The judge, Youssef al-Falaiti, turned down this request, however, and handed down the sentence referred to earlier.
- Withdrawal of books from Muscat International Book Fair (February/March 2017):
The management of Muscat’s 22nd International Book Fair withdrew two publications from the fair: the 2016 annual hardcopy edition of Mowatin magazine (Oman: Present Challenges and Future Outcomes) – even though Mowatin’s previous annual edition had been on display at the 2016 Book Fair – and Lak La Walaa’, 2017, a volume of poetry by Ahmed al-Araimi. The OCHR believes the main reason for this was the content of the books.
The Mowatin book included a number of interviews and articles expressing views and ideas critical of the government’s performance, and the Lak La Walaa’ anthology also included a long passage containing several phrases and ideas critical of the government. Neither the Ministry of Information nor the Ministry of Heritage and Culture commented on the decision to withdraw the books, and the Writers and Literary Association failed to condemn the incident!
- Ahmed al-Bahri:
Teacher and cultural activist Ahmed al-Bahri was detained by the Mukhabarat, Oman’s internal security force, after being summoned for questioning on April 17, 2017, in connection with a post on his Facebook page. In it he criticised the deployment of four-wheel-drive police vehicles on the streets of Buraimi Governorate, where Bahri lives, saying that the way they were deployed was blocking the view and causing traffic congestion. Ahmed al-Bahri was eventually released without charge on May 16.
- Khaled al-Ramadhani:
The Omani authorities arrested Omani citizen Khaled al-Ramadhani on Saturday, April 15, 2017, after stopping him at the Wadi al-Jizzi border post, and transferred him on Monday, April 17 to the Police Special Section in Muscat Governorate. The cause of his arrest can be traced to a number of Facebook posts in which he criticised the Sultan, the regime and corruption. Ramadhani had been called in for questioning several times previously for the same reason. He was later released without charge on April 24.
- Khaled Al-Rashdi:
On 19th of December 2017, the Muscat Court of First Instance had hosted the first hearing of Khaled Alrashdi’s trial. Alrashid, a former presenter, was accused by the general prosecutor of insulting employees of two ministries; the Interior and housing, and violation of the article 19 of the Cyber Crimes Law. Alrashdi previously published tweets about official institutions violating the law, without naming any of the institutions. The trial was postponed to the 2nd of January 2018.
Freedom of the press:
- Fatma al-Araimi:
On January 12, 2017, the Ministry of Information cancelled journalist Fatma al-Araimi’s accreditation as a correspondent for Reuters News Agency, after the agency published a news report about Oman requesting a deposit of billions of dollars from the Gulf Arab states, something the Omani government denied.
- Azzamn newspaper:
On October 5, 2017, Oman’s Supreme Court issued a final decree closing down the independent newspaper Azzamn, after the Public Prosecutor, back in January 2017, challenged a December 26, 2016, ruling of the Court of Appeal annulling an earlier closure decision.
The Azzamn case, which began in July 2016 (see OCHR’s Annual Report for 2016), ended with the paper being closed down and barred from circulation, and with jail terms for two of its journalists. Editor-in-chief and Chairman Ibrahim al-Maamari was eventually released in May 2017, and Managing Editor Youssef al-Hajj on October 23.
After the Court of Appeal in December 2016 annulled the paper’s closure, Minister of Information Abdul Munim al-Hasani, who had issued the original order closing Azzamn on August 9, 2016, issued a new suspension order in January 2017, and renewed it every three months until the Supreme Court (Azamn’s adversary in the case) issued its final decision closing the paper down for good on October 5.
- Mowatin magazine:
The Omani authorities shut down the website of the online magazine Mowatin just as Mowatin announced that it was resuming publication on World Press Freedom Day, May 3, 2017. Mowatin had earlier, on January 14, 2016, announced it was suspending operations after repeated harassment of a number of its staff by the security forces, but later decided to go back to work. Its founder and editor-in-chief Mohammed al-Fazari had also suffered harassment by the Omani security forces, culminating in having his passport and personal documents withdrawn and being prevented from travelling abroad, before his decision to leave Oman in July 2015 for the UK seeking political asylum. The magazine’s website remains blocked as this report is being written.
Harassment of activists:
- On January 29, 2017, the Omani security authorities imposed a travel ban on the family of Mohammed al-Fazari, the editor-in-chief of Mowatin magazine, and took away their personal documents. Al-Fazari’s wife, the writer Badriya al-Mamari, was on her way to Dubai Airport with her children that day, to fly to the UK, when she was stopped by a police car and had her documents and those of her children taken. She was ordered to go back and report the following day to the Police Special Section, the joint executive body of the internal security forces (Mukhabarat) and the Public Prosecution in Muscat. This was not the first time al-Fazari’s wife had been subjected to a travel ban.
- The internal security forces took away the passports of several Omani activists, only some of whom spoke out about this while others preferred to keep quiet for fear of Internal Security taking further devious measures against them:
– Hilal al-Busaidi, one of the prisoners of conscience in the famous “lese-majesty” case of 2012, was arrested again in December 2014; he was kidnapped in the city of Al-Ain in the UAE and handed over to the Omani authorities. He has been without a passport since this latter arrest, and although he has kept making urgent requests for it to be returned to him so he can travel abroad for medical treatment, Internal Security have so far, as of this writing, refused to give his passport back.
– Writer Hamoud al-Shukaili, who was arrested in August 2016 because of a poem he had posted on Facebook, also had his passport taken away, on February 7, 2017. He had already been banned from travelling abroad, despite the fact that his case in the Court of Appeal had ended on January 18, 2017, and despite making a number of requests for the return of his passport. It is still being held by Internal Security.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly:
- Imad al-Farsi, the first Omani citizen to demonstrate outside the US embassy in the Omani capital, Muscat, on December 7, 2017 against the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, was snatched by the security authorities, taken to Bausher Police Station and questioned for several hours to prevent any other demonstration taking place. He was subsequently released after signing a pledge not to demonstrate again. Imad was born in 1980 in Sur, in Al-Sharqiya South Governorate.
Seeking asylum outside the country:
2017 saw two instances of Omani activists seeking political asylum in the United Kingdom: writer and blogger Muawiya al-Rawahi, and former rights activist Said Jadad.
Muawiya al-Rawahi spent thirteen months in prison in the UAE, including 100 days in solitary confinement before he was transferred to Al-Wathba Prison for the rest of the period. He was eventually released in March 2016 but decided nearly a year later to leave Oman and flee to the UK, in February 2017, for fear of the internal security forces in Oman producing trumped-up charges against him. He had also previously suffered arbitrary dismissal by his former employer, the office of Royal Court Affairs, despite his producing evidence about his state of mental health, and without him being given the right to challenge his dismissal in law.
Former rights activist Said Jadad, meanwhile, had been imprisoned more than once in various jails in Oman (Muscat and Salalah). He left prison on August 26, 2016, but after that was banned from travelling abroad. Jadad decided in March 2017 to flee Oman for the UK, to ensure his liberty and personal safety, and to avoid being arrested and imprisoned once again.
- On 10 April, Ibrahim Almammari, writer and Editor-in-chief and Chairman of the closed newspaper Azzamn, was released after he served six months in prison. Ibrahim was arrested after Azzamn published a report accusing some of the judiciary’s members of corruption.
- On 23 October, Youssef Alhaj, screenwriter, novelist and managing editor of the closed newspaper Azzamn, was released after he served a year in jail because of Azzamn report about corruption in the judiciary, and his two interviews with the deputy chief of the judiciary, Ali Alnoumani, who approved the corruption in the judiciary.
YOUR RIGHTS ARE NOT CRIME, THE CRIME IS WHEN YOU ARE PREVENTED FROM EXERCISING YOUR RIGHTS.