Environmental activist Ahmed Issa Qutn, arrested for comments on Twitter criticising a regional policy decision, is to face trial on 8 March, the Omani Centre for Human Rights (OCHR-OMAN) has learned. He will remain in custody until then, having been denied bail.
Dr Qutn was summoned to report on 23 February 2021 to Special Branch in Salalah, where he was arrested by the security authorities. The following day he was questioned by the Public Prosecutor’s office and charged with using social media in a manner prejudicial to public order. Dr Qutn rejects the charge as a violation of his right to freedom of expression.
The Dhofar Governor’s office recently announced that camels could no longer be grazed on part of the monsoon-watered Dhofar Plains, in order for ownership of the land to be transferred to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development.
Dr Qutn, an expert on water issues, urged the authorities to respect the environmental way of life in Dhofar, and called for a rally of camels in front of the Sultan’s palace if the autumn monsoon arrived without the Governor’s office having retracted its decisions. The message would be that the Sultan should either “get rid of the camels or get rid of the hereditary administration of the Governor’s office”, as he put it.
In one of his critical tweets Dr Qutn, was born in September 1959, linked the land transfer decision to suspicions of corruption and vested interests.
In a broadcast interview, one of the affected camel owners and herders in Dhofar Governorate, Bakhit Salem Qutn, urged the Governor’s office to respect camel herders and their flocks as a national asset, and said the Governor of Dhofar had not discussed the matter with the local population before issuing his decision. He argued that transferring ownership of the land to the housing ministry would destroy all the existing Dhofar plainlands. Bakhit also said there were irregularities in the way the minister’s office handled what he called “random development plans”, and that there was evidence to back this accusation; and that the Governor’s office was in breach of certain royal decrees. He added that the Governor’s office was out of touch with the tribes of the region, and had not even informed members of the governorate’s municipal council of the decision.
The Governor’s office had earlier issued a clarificatory statement related to the decision, explaining arrangements to start temporary enabling works in the Salalah Plain. It said there was “constant liaison with the relevant bodies to ensure that large parts of the plain remain natural open space, in accordance with the national strategy for urban development, since the decision does not affect areas where rights have been granted for use within the scope of rural housing”.
insists that freedom of opinion and expression must be respected, and calls for
the immediate and unconditional release of Dr Ahmed Qutn. The OCHR-OMAN also notes
that criticising the authorities is not a crime, and that all parts of the government
should respect individuals’ freedom to criticise their policies.