Following a number of complaints, and having carried out its own investigations, the Omani Centre for Human Rights (OCHR) has established as a fact that two psychiatric hospitals in Oman – Al-Masarra Hospital and Sultan Qaboos University Hospital – have colluded with the Internal Security Service (ISS, also known as the Mukhabarat) in the arrests of several activists and in keeping them locked up in hospital on the pretext of their suffering from mental illnesses.
Interviews conducted by the OCHR with people affected revealed how someone can be arrested by the ISS and held for questioning in an ISS detention centre but then transferred by the ISS to Al-Masarra Hospital to be detained and treated as a psychiatric patient, with a report being issued stating them to be mentally ill.
Omani blogger Muawiya al-Rawahi, who was diagnosed in 2004 with bipolar affective disorder, was arrested in 2012 for insulting the Sultan. After a few days in the cells of the Omani police’s Special Branch, and when he started self-harming in protest at the undue length of time his questioning was taking, the ISS moved him to a special cell in Ibn Sina Hospital (as it was then). And although at that time he was officially in a state of therapeutic hypnosis, one of his doctors brought a laptop to his cell for him to write a letter of apology to the Sultan (al-Rawahi’s blog was published on social media while he was in detention, and the letter was first published on the blog of his attending physician). Al-Rawahi was discharged from hospital by ISS staff against medical advice.
When al-Rawahi was arrested on another occasion, in 2014, he relates that he was moved directly from the Special Branch, after he banged his head on the edge of a wooden desk, to Al-Masarra Hospital, and from there to Sultan Qaboos University Hospital. This, he reports, took place through direct liaison between the Internal Security Service and doctors in the psychiatric departments of Al-Masarra and Sultan Qaboos University Hospitals. He was discharged after signing pledges not to go back to writing and publishing on social media.
Activists with a past history of mental health issues may subsequently suffer a further episode triggered by being denied their legal rights. Government bodies make it their business to talk to detainees’ relatives and threaten them that if the activist resumes openly writing or publishing they will be held responsible. If activists do resume writing and publishing, the Omani authorities in Oman, in cooperation with their families, resort to imposing restrictions on them on medical grounds, through a legal document that prevents them from moving around freely and denies them the right to obtain travel documents or go abroad or move outside a legally defined area. This constitutes a kind of intellectual and social death sentence on the activist, and is one of the means by which the Omani government attempts to suppress criticism and silence anyone speaking out of line.
A number of activists who have written critically about the situation in Oman have lately been subjected to such treatment and such threats, with the security services depriving them of their papers and threatening their relatives with reprisals should the activists resume writing and publishing.
The OCHR has heard sufficient evidence to establish the fact of collusion in this regard between certain Omani and expatriate doctors and hospital staff and the Omani security services.