“Human rights: my personal experience”- Khalfan Al-Badwawi

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“Human rights: my personal experience” The first in a series of evening discussions Khalfan al-Badwawi

 The education system in Oman is an exercise in brainwashing. It doesn’t foster curiosity or critical thinking.
 Working at the Royal Hospital allowed me to witness the corruption in the tendering process, and the unequal way in which citizens are treated.
 Working for the company Abraj Energy Services gave me a chance to mix with ordinary workers and get to know about their hardships and the racism they face, especially foreign workers.
 Later, I worked at the Sohar Aluminium Company, which allowed me to witness the systematic bias in employing people from outside the neighbourhoods around the industrial zone, at a time when these neighbourhoods had a high rate of unemployment.
 Shinas, the town my family originally came from, has a population of about 90,000 but it got its first health centre only in 2006.
 You can’t accuse citizens, or a whole sector of the population, of working as agents for another state when the political system denies them even basic rights and services, and has not provided them with jobs.
 The 2011 protest movement, in my view, was a rebellion against stagnation in Oman.
 The Omanis have a great history of rebellion, but the current regime has totally distorted this.
 It was the killing of Abdullah al-Ghamlasi that prompted me to leave work and head out to join the demonstrations, and to help transport to hospital the wounded and those who had been shot with live ammunition.
 I believe the number killed in the 2011 Sohar demonstrations was higher than rumoured, but the security authorities and Internal Security covered up the affair, and pressured local residents to do likewise.
 During the 2011 demonstrations some mistakes were made by the rebels themselves, but these mistakes bear no comparison to the errors of the government.
 The safest time for us, and even local residents, on days when there were demonstrations in Sohar, was the moment the police left and people’s committees were formed to maintain security.
 At 2:00 a.m. on March 29, 2011, the military and security forces attacked the places where the demonstrators had gathered and arrested large numbers of them. Many of them were released, but 26 of them continued to be held.
 When we were arrested we were handcuffed and had black cloths put over our faces. The way we were handled reminded me of stories about the Dhofar Rebellion and how the Qaboos regime used to execute the demonstrators, and I thought I was going to suffer the same fate.
 I was one of those who were released afterwards. But after my release I decided to go on social media openly, using my real name.
 In October 2011, I and a group of guys started an initiative to secure the release of detainees from the Sohar demonstrations.
 In February 2012, a year on from the start of the Sohar demonstrations, I was called into the office of the Public Prosecution in Sohar for questioning. The interrogation took the form of a lecture on patriotism, and also included some threats.
 After that, I decided to work on building up revolutionary activity in order to ensure its continuity, by forming a variety of groups seeking to bring about change and to mobilise democracy. We designed some leaflets and had some meetings, and worked on setting up our first radio station, but it didn’t happen.
 In 2012 I started to criticise the Qaboos regime openly.
 In May 2012 the oil workers’ strike took place, and I decided to organise a protest in Muscat in solidarity with them, holding up banners about democracy and human rights.
 As part of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London, Qaboos spent billions of riyals on the world’s biggest-ever airlift of horses. To me this felt like a humiliation for every Omani, especially as just the previous year we had held demonstrations against corruption and unemployment.
 On June 2, I decided to organise a protest to demand the release of members of the Omani human rights team, and to send Qaboos a political and human rights message.
 The protest used a number of satirical slogans referring to the challenge of feeding the Omani horses in London.
 This protest represented the first political satire in the history of modern Oman directly criticising Qaboos.
 I received a phone call on June 6 asking me to attend the Special Branch police station, where I was arrested in connection with the case that later came to be known as the “lèse-majesté” case.
 I was placed in solitary confinement in a tiny cell with bright lights and loud music, and I made one suicide attempt.
 Prince Charles visited Oman in March 2013 to sign a number of agreements. I planned to demonstrate against the visit, to signal to the prince that we Omanis reject their occupation and their backing of Qaboos. However I was kidnapped from a public street in Muscat two days before the visit, and released a day after the prince departed.
 I was kidnapped again from a public street in Muscat in November 2013 after I published a document exposing collaboration between several official Omani institutions, including the security establishment, and an Israeli security company. This time my kidnapping and detention were accompanied by an explicit threat to kill me.
 I fled Oman in search of safety, and left it in pursuit of freedom.
 I am against the word “reform” because it is used to frustrate change – the regime that has brought about the problems will not be able to solve them.