Summer spate of free speech arrests in Oman


Over the past few weeks the Omani authorities have arrested at least five ordinary citizens for peacefully expressing views on topics such as atheism, the position of women and alcohol sales in the country, or criticising the Sultan’s management of the Omani economy.
At dawn on 24 July 2021 the authorities arrested Ghaith al-Shibli, who had hosted several discussions on Twitter about the freedom to hold atheistic views or have no religious belief, and the freedom to criticise Oman’s Islamic heritage. Al-Shibli was arrested in a raid on his home in Sohar, in Al Batinah North Governorate, and has not yet been released. Neither is it known if he has been granted access to a lawyer, or the nature of the charges against him.
In a related development Abdullah Hassan, a resident of the city of Sohar, was arrested for regularly commenting on al-Shibli’s social media, as well as tweeting in support of religious freedoms. His arrest took place on 2 August after he was called in for questioning.
The authorities also arrested Maryam al-Nuaimi, who had taken part in an online discussion of the position of women in Oman. Here at the Omani Centre for Human Rights (OCHR) we think she was arrested from her flat in Muscat Governorate on or around 2 August. Witnesses told the Centre that the authorities raided her flat before arresting her.
On 11 August the authorities arrested a man who had called for a demonstration against the sale of alcohol in Oman. Talal al-Salmani had sent a letter to the Director of Bousher Police Station seeking permission to organise a peaceful rally calling for liquor shops to be closed down. We believe the main reason for al-Salmani’s arrest was a series of videos he published on Twitter, in the last of which he called for a rally on 11 August outside the Housing Ministry car park in Al Khuwair, Muscat Governorate.
Then on 13 August a man called Khamis al-Hatali posted a video on his personal Twitter account in which he addressed the current Sultan, Haitham bin Tariq, and blamed him for Oman’s worsening economic problems. Al-Hatali accused Haitham bin Tariq of being a tyrant, or “an unjust person”, as he put it. We think al-Hatali was detained later the same day, after receiving a phone call from Al Masna’a Police Station, but it is not clear whether he turned himself in to the police or was arrested in a raid on his home.
In light of all of this, the OCHR urges the Omani authorities to respect freedom of conscience and peaceful expression of opinions, and to release all those arrested. It also warns that provisions in Omani laws (such as the Penal Code) that stand in the way of free speech and freedom of opinion, by criminalising criticism of the government or the Sultan or peaceful irreligious activity, are a major cause of the increasing repression of liberties.

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