An Evening with Saeed Jaddad, hosted by the Omani Centre for Human Rights

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An Evening with Saeed Jaddad, hosted by the Omani Centre for Human Rights

…the second in a series of gatherings to hear the personal experiences
of human rights activists in Oman

Before 1996, I was an ordinary Omani citizen, living in a country where the media constantly glorified Sultan Qaboos and led us to believe that Oman was God’s Paradise on earth, with justice, full rights and equality.

I lost sympathy with that way of thinking, and changed my understanding of the governing regime and human rights, because of what happened to my son. The story began in late 1994 and ended – with his death – in 1996.

My son suffered from an obscure medical condition caused by a blood transfusion he received at Qaboos Hospital in Salalah. I couldn’t even get him to one of the hospitals in Muscat, the capital, without pulling strings, and this made me realise just how little I really mattered as a member of the public.

This incident confirmed for me that as a citizen I had no value; the slogans of the government and Sultan were nothing but a huge deception, and the country was being run by a bunch of thieves.

After my son’s death I became a different person with a new mentality. I realised that members of the public were just numbers, expected to live on crumbs.

I lodged a complaint with several official bodies, and even the Sultan, until finally the Minister of State and Governor of Dhofar, Muslim Al Busaidi, summoned me to his office and advised me to drop my case. However, I refused to do so, and I received threats from the Internal Security Service. I contacted several newspapers, but the Omani press refused to write about my case, although some Kuwaiti papers did, which the government was not expecting.

After this incident, I was approached by large numbers of Omani citizens who had complaints of their own about their rights being violated in numerous ways. Some of them were so afraid that they came to my house at one o’clock in the morning.

The online chatroom Sablat al-Arab helped us to express our views freely, which caught the government unawares at the time, and meant that it was slow to react.

In 2010 I signed a petition calling for a constitutional sultanate (monarchy), but we still don’t know what happened to it after it was presented to the official bodies.

I wasn’t one of the people who started the protests in Salalah on February 25, 2011, but I joined in later, on Day Three, not realising at the time how far the people of Dhofar’s outrage would go.

The day after I joined the sit-in, an Internal Security officer came to me and threatened – not for the last time – to break my neck if any violence occurred.

Once they had put an end to the sit-in, the military raised the Omani flag over the site of the demonstration, having already named the exercise to stamp out the protests “Operation Cat’s Claw”.

The forcible closure of the protest camp involved skirmishes between the military and the protesters. At the time, the army wanted to fire on the protesters, but some Dhofari soldiers refused the order, and they threatened to turn their guns on them.

I was imprisoned at various times in Samail and Nizwa and at Special Branch in Muscat, and in several prisons in Dhofar Governorate, and both my sons and I were kept constantly under close surveillance.

I was abducted a number of times, always at night. The first time, I was ambushed on the street by the security forces. They forced me out of my car, put me in a taxi, took me home, and proceeded to storm and search the house while pointing their weapons at my sons and daughters, after which they took the computers. Then they threw me into a prison in Salalah.

The second raid on my home took place while my family and I were having dinner. Suddenly a group of security officers broke down the door of the house, came in and arrested me in front of my children.

The third time, it was 1 a.m. when a security detachment raided my home in order to arrest me. The security officers were wearing masks – I recall it was dubbed “Operation Scorpion”.

In Muscat I was twice placed in an isolation cell, once for ten days and the second time for two months, in a detention centre completely cut off from everything, with surveillance cameras everywhere, even in the toilets.

None of the humiliations they inflicted on me was going to break my spirit. I was prepared to pay the ultimate price for the sake of my dignity. I used to see these things as like the fire that tempers metal, and they increased my strength and resilience.

On one occasion they gave me a three-year suspended jail sentence and threatened to send me back to prison if I resumed my political and human rights activity.

I decided to get out of the country. It meant leaving my sick parents and family in a precarious financial position, but it was a decision I felt I had to take in order to light a candle in the darkness.