Protests in Oman: an Omani summer with a taste of spring!
Protests in Oman that began on Sunday, May 23, 2021 in Sohar, followed the next day by Salalah, came to a halt after five days when the security forces seized control of all the areas where demonstrators had gathered to protest in various parts of the country. Many people had expected that by arresting people on the first two days, and by using force and tear gas to disperse the demonstrators, the security forces would have managed to stop people going out on to the streets. However, on Tuesday, May 25 large numbers of citizens were seen demonstrating in various places in different Omani provinces, such as Nizwa, Ibri, Sur, Ibra, al-Suwaiq and al-Khabura.
The protests were mainly about rising unemployment and the lack of radical solutions to the problem, but some of the participants also held up placards calling for an end to corruption and for corrupt officials to be brought to account. The Omani Centre for Human Rights (OCHR) is not aware of any reports of placards calling for regime change.
The first day of the protests saw widespread arrests among the demonstrators in Sohar, as did the second day in both Sohar and Salalah. According to witnesses who spoke to the Centre, riot police used force to arrest some of the protesters, as well as firing tear gas to break up the demonstrations. The Centre’s sources also said that more than 40 protesters were arrested in Sohar, but they were all, or nearly all, released in the evening of May 24.
There were arrests too in the other provinces that subsequently joined the protests, as in Sohar and Salalah. Those arrested were all later released, according to the Centre’s sources. And pn the fifth day of the demonstrations, Thursday, May 27, a number of Omani women joined the protests in Salalah.
Since May 27, the security forces have also arrested or summoned for questioning many of those who took part in the demonstrations. In some cases they simply had to sign undertakings before being released, but others were held for days before being charged with offences such as holding an illegal gathering or breaching public order, in addition to violating Covid-19 restrictions.
One of those detained, Mishaal al-Maamari, was arrested on the street in Sohar in front of his family on May 27 when police vehicles stopped his car. He was released on May 30 and charged with the offences mentioned above. Meanwhile Ibrahim al-Baluchi, arrested on May 26, is still being held. Witnesses have told the OCHR that Ibrahim has gone on hunger strike; but he has been released today, June 2. These latest arrests and harassments are not confined to Sohar, as according to the Centre’s sources several demonstrators were summoned for questioning and arrested or detained in Salalah too, all of whom were released after signing undertakings.
Against this background, the Omani Centre for Human Rights urges the Omani authorities to respect citizens’ freedom to demonstrate peacefully, and expresses concern that the security forces may potentially escalate the situation to the point of violence, especially since they are present in a number of Omani provinces and cities. The OCHR notes that security forces have already blocked or cordoned off roads to prevent protesters reaching them, or to stop them making any advance.