Oman Cracks Down On Troublemakers

Oman has recently been facing civil disturbance issues, a rare occurrence for the generally-peaceful country. General prosecution has vowed to crack down on anyone guilty of inciting violence or unrest, arresting several activists this week. Mohammad Saif Al-Rahbi reports.

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prosecutor hussein hilali, omani authorities, incitment, human rights activists

Jun 13, 2012

As bloggers and human rights activists escalate their campaign against the last week’s arrests of several activists, Omani authorities defended their actions. Prosecutor Hussein Hilali said that the General Prosecution will "go after anyone defaming [government officials through online] means of communication." Another group also defended the security measures taken in response to the growing tide of disrespect for senior officials, including Sultan Qaboos. According to some, the country's national unity, security and stability will be in jeopardy if this red line is crossed.

Hilali told Al-Hayat that many of those arrested are currently under investigation, and that "once the investigations are over, legal action will be taken, and those with evidence against them will be referred to the relevant court."

This takes place a week after the General Prosecution issued a statement which warned that it “will take all necessary legal action against anyone who incites [the public through] disrespectful writings or speech, as well as against anyone who helps support such crimes." Legal measures, the statement says, will be taken in response to the "increasing frequency of this type of writing under the pretext of freedom of expression." The statement added that "such words and deeds disrespect religious teaching, and the deep-rooted customs and noble ethics of Omani society." "Such acts are contrary to public order and morals, and they are legally criminalized regardless of how they are committed - whether they are visible, read or heard - and regardless of what means of communication and information technology is used, including electronic forums and social networking sites," the statement read.

Websites and forums circulated a statement that had been signed by more than 80 people in solidarity with those arrested. The statement read: "We strongly condemn such arrests at a time when we are all trying to calm the situation and build the nation."

The statement urged security services "to stop meddling in civilian life and preserve the spirit of Omani law," calling on both the State Council and the Shura Council to "immediately intervene to protect civilians from these apparatuses, since both councils represent the citizens and their aspirations." The statement also urged the National Commission for Human Rights to "rush to the protection of detainees and to ensure their safety, while also monitoring any abuse that they experienced. The detainees should also be able to access all of their rights, including calling and hiring lawyers to defend them." The statement also called for "the release of all detainees."

The statement disclosed the names of several people who were arrested: "Blogger and activist Nabhan al-Hanshi, author Hamoud Saud al-Rashidi, blogger and activist Ismail al-Maqbali, blogger Khalfan al-Badwawi, blogger Isaac al-Ighbiri, poet Hamad al-Kharusi, blogger Hassan al-Raqishi, Ali al-Haji and Mr. Ali al-Saadi." Others, including Habiba al-Hinai (a former volleyball player and activist) were released. Three activists were investigated on charges of inciting unrest following their visit to the strikers in the oil fields. Many thousands of workers staged a sit-in at the oil fields, demanding that their working conditions in the desert be improved.

The Shura Council and government committees intervened to stop the strike, which was putting oil production at risk and could have caused small businesses to claim bankruptcy. However, a number of companies refused to allow strikers to return to their jobs, since the strike was illegal and against labor laws.

In a remarkable development - which has implications for Oman - Shura Council members demanded that the Minister of Oil and Gas be questioned "for neglecting his power, for being indifferent and for not taking the necessary precautions to manage the crises in the Sultanate caused by the workers’ strike in the oil fields," according to a statement read by Vice Chairman Salem al-Kaabi, who took over the presidency of a group that was created to follow up on the Omani workers’s strike.

Kaabi used a language that is unfamiliar to local circles, and described the absence of the minister, who is on vacation abroad, as "strange." Given all of these "exceptional and serious circumstances, he should have been more diligent. After all, he is the administrative head of one of the most important ministries in the country, as he is in charge of the most important source of income for the Sultanate." He pointed out that the group following up on the case is searching in vain for the minister, who did not even "bother” to contact with Head of the Shura Council "or any member of the Council to inquire about the sit-ins." Kaabi asks, "If the honorable Ministers are absent in such crises, then when will they be present?"

Kaabi said that sit-ins were over last Thursday, May 31. The issue has been brought "to the dialogue table at the Shura Council, but we could not thoroughly address the topic because as I said before, there is still a group of employees who could not return to their jobs."

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