Three businessmen missing since 27 August in Oman following low-key sit-in to demand reforms
Three Omani businessmen have been disappeared by the security services for two weeks since staging a small, peaceful protest in Muscat that they publicised on YouTube.
Entrepreneur Hani al-Sarhani had previously been arrested on 9 August 2022, and released a few days later without charge, after publishing a video in which he expressed concern over the economic situation and called for government support to stimulate trade.
On 27 August, al-Sarhani and fellow entrepreneurs Mahmoud al-Ghabshi and Saoud al-Kathiri announced they were holding a peaceful sit-in to call for higher incomes, action against corruption, and measures to facilitate tourism and commercial activity in the country, along with demands for a number of reforms that they outlined in a video on YouTube.
The Internal Security authorities swiftly put an end to this peaceful three-person protest in Muscat and “disappeared” the businessmen, without – as of 9 September – providing any information regarding their safety or whereabouts or any charges against them.
The Omani Centre for Human Rights (OCHR) points out that the 2018 Omani Penal Code sets prison terms and fines for individuals who initiate or take part in a gathering of more than 10 people that poses a threat to security or public order, or who fail to comply with an official order to disperse.
The three businessmen were careful, however, not to breach the 10-person limit on gatherings. Yet freedom of assembly in Oman is almost non-existent, as all public gatherings require an official permit, and the government has the power to ban organised public meetings without there being any means to appeal.
The OCHR has been documenting violations of the right to free speech in Oman since 2015, and is gravely concerned about the arbitrary arrests and continual harassment of individuals for simply expressing their opinions and ideas, mostly on Twitter.
Recently, the Omani government has appeared to be going after opinion leaders with a following on social media, targeting them for harassmen, summonsing – or abduction – for questioning, and interrogation for hours or days, with the aim of deterring them from going back to publicising their ideas. In some cases the government has even brought criminal charges and had people sent to prison for posting on Twitter.
The Internal Security Service, headed since 2013 by Saeed bin Ali al-Hilali, and reporting directly to Sultan Haitham in accordance with Article 2 of Royal Decree No. 4/2020, is the agency implicated in most violations of the right to freedom of expression in Oman, since it has sweeping powers and is subject to no scrutiny or accountability.
The OCHR calls on the Internal Security authorities to release the three businessmen and confirm their whereabouts and safety, and to stop persecuting people for their opinions.