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Oman: Wave of arbitrary arrests and detention of human rights defenders
At least thirteen human rights defenders were arbitrarily arrested on 8 and 11 June 2012 as they were calling for the release of all detained human rights defenders in Oman.
It is feared that they may be charged with "agitation", which is regarded as a state security offence and is punishable by up to fifteen years in prison. The wave of arrests began on 31 May when three human rights defenders were arrested as they were paying a solidarity visit to oil workers staging a strike at Al Fuhoud Oil Field.
On 11 June 2012, during a peaceful protest calling for the release of all detained human rights defenders in Oman, the following defenders were arrested and are currently detained at Samail Central Prison, approximately 70km east of Muscat: lawyer Ms Basma Al Khayoumi, who had been detained and interrogated a number of times in the past; writer Mr Sa'id Al Hashimi and radio presenter and broadcaster Ms Basma Al Rajhi, both of whom were kidnapped and tortured in 2011; writer Mr Samaa Issa(released on 13 June); Mr Mukhtar Al Hana'i, who was arrested along with his father and 14-year-old brother; journalist Mr Nassir Saleh; blogger Mr Abdalla Al Badi; blogger Mr Fahd Al Kharousi; and blogger Ms Fatma Al Bousaidi. Basma Al Khayoumi, Sa'id Al Hashimi, and Basima Al Rajhi are reported to have started a hunger strike in protest against their arbitrary arrest and that of their fellow human rights defenders.
Among those arrested on 8 June 2012 were writers Mr Hamoud Al Rashidi and Mr Nabhan Al Hinshi, blogger Mr Hasan Al Ruqayshi and writer and poet Mr Hamad Al Kharousi. On the day of their arrest, they signed a petition addressed to the authorities calling for the release of the detained human rights defenders. They are reportedly being detained at the Special Branch of the Omani Police in Muscat.
The three human rights defenders arrested on 31 May as they were visiting oil workers on strike at Al Fuhoud Oil Field are journalist and social rights activist Ms Habiba Al Hana'i, lawyer Mr Yaqoub Al Kharousi, and prominent blogger Mr Ismail Al Muqbali. They are all founding members of the Omani Group for Human Rights. Following their arrest, they were transferred to the Special Branch of the Omani Police in Muscat and charged with "agitation". The first two defenders were released on bail on 4 June but Ismail Al Muqbali remains in detention.
Following the arrests of 31 May, the Prosecutor General issued a statement threatening to take legal action against those involved in “harmful writings and agitating calls under the pretext of freedom of expression”, which he stated were detrimental to the national interest and contrary to public order. He added that such acts were punishable by law. In his statement, he was reportedly referring to the work of human rights defenders and bloggers, in particular their calls for freedom of expression and assembly, and their criticism of government policies through peaceful protests.
Omani human rights defenders have also been facing acts of intimidation and harassment in the recent past: smear campaigns; hacking of personal computers, email and blog accounts, and social networking websites; accusations of crimes including "strife and disorder" and “attacking the sovereign symbol of the country”. The Omani public has reportedly been asked to inform the authorities on the activities of human rights groups, and to provide evidence for their prosecution.
Front Line Defenders expresses grave concern on the detention of the above mentioned human rights defenders and on the continued attack by the authorities on the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. It believes that the current wave of arbitrary arrests and detention of human rights defenders in Oman is solely motivated by their peaceful and legitimate human rights work, in particular their call for the respect of the rights to freedom expression and assembly in accordance with international standards to which Oman is a state party.