Omani businessman jailed for peaceful protest over economic conditions
On 27 October 2022, Omani businessman Hani al-Sarhani was sentenced to 12 months in jail for highlighting the plight of small businesses during the Covid pandemic, and six months for organising a small, peaceful protest over economic conditions. He spent 55 days of pre-trial detention in solitary confinement and degrading conditions that amounted to torture.
Al-Sarhani was first arrested on 9 August 2022 and released a few days later without charge, after publishing a video in which he expressed concern over the country’s deteriorating economic situation and called on the government to support the business sector. The Internal Security authorities arrested al-Sarhani a second time, on 27 August, during a peaceful sit-in that he staged in Muscat along with two other entrepreneurs. He was forcibly disappeared for a time, but was released on 20 October pending a court verdict and sentencing on 27 October.
He was not, in fact, charged and put on trial for taking part in an illegal gathering under Article 121 of the Omani Penal Code, as the businessmen’s sit-in involved fewer than 10 people and thus fell short of the threshold for it to be deemed a crime, but he was instead tried on the following three charges:
- Calling for and inciting a gathering (under Article 123 of the Penal Code), on the basis of a voice message from 2020, in which al-Sarhani was speaking to his colleagues in a WhatsApp group about the idea of submitting a complaint to the Sultan or the head of the Supreme Committee for Dealing with Covid-19 about the closure of their businesses, and he suggested they stage a peaceful sit-in as a way of trying to draw attention to the plight of businesses during the pandemic.
- Publishing rumours and false news such as to undermine the reputation of the State and weaken confidence in its financial markets or its economic and financial standing (Article 115 of the Penal Code), after he published a video of shops in the Ruwi district of the capital to draw attention to the low level of commercial activity during the pandemic, calling for officials to intervene and find solutions; it was not al-Sarhani’s intention to harm the reputation of the State but simply to draw attention to their hardship, which is a legitimate right.
- Using information technologies to publish material that might prejudice public order (Article 19 of the Cyber Crime Law).
On 27 October 2022 the verdict on Hani al-Sarhani was issued. He was found guilty of the charges brought under Articles 123 and 115 of the Penal Code, and was served a penalty of six months in jail on the first count and a year on the second, of which only the more severe of the two would be implemented; bail was set at 300 Omani riyals should he wish to appeal; his Twitter and WhatsApp accounts were closed; and the phone he used to send the voice message and post the video was confiscated. He was found not guilty as charged under Article 19 of the Cyber Crime Law.
The Omani Centre for Human Rights urges the Omani authorities to drop the charges against Hani al-Sarhani, to maintain the right to freedom of opinion and expression.