Posted 2012/9/11

Oman: Update – Sentencing of several human rights defenders and trials of others adjourned

Omani human rights defenders released on bail

On 9 September 2012, the Criminal Court of First Instance in Muscat sentenced several human rights defenders on charges including insulting the Sultan Qaboos and violating the information technology law.

Some of the charges against the human rights defenders are linked to comments that appeared on Facebook, and the defendants deny responsibility for these comments, claiming that their accounts were hacked.

The Criminal Court of First Instance in Muscat sentenced human rights defenders Mr Ismail Al-Muqabli, Mr Nabhan Al-Hinshi, Mr Mahmood Al-Jamoodi and Mr Hasan Al-Ruqayshi to one year and six months in prison each and fined them 1,000 Omani Riyal (approximately EUR 2,033) apiece. Mr Ishaq Al-Aghrabi and Mr Ali Al-Hajji were both sentenced to one year in prison and ordered to pay fines of 1,000 Omani Riyal. Bail pending appeal has been set at 1,500 Omani Riyal (approximately EUR 3,050) for each of the aforementioned human rights defenders. Ishaq Al-Aghrabi is expected to be released later today and the other five human rights defenders have been released after posting bail. It is reported that during the hearing, the judge refused to hear Nabhan Al-Hinshi's witnesses.

The trials of Mr Khulfan Al-Badawawi, Mr Khalid Al-Nawfali, Mr Sultan Al-Sa'di and Mr Hatim Al-Maliki were adjourned until 16 September 2012. The presiding judge has ordered for a court-appointed technical expert to examine the Facebook pages of Messrs Khalid Al-Nawfali, Sultan Al-Sa'di and Hatim Al-Maliki in order to determine the truth of the defendants' claims that their Facebook accounts were hacked. Each of the three human rights defenders has had to pay 500 Omani Riyals (approximately EUR 1,017) for the examination of their Facebook pages by the technical expert, who will present his findings on 16 September 2012.

Mr Mukhtar Al-Hana'i was also brought before the court on 9 September to answer charges of “insulting the Sultan Qaboos and damaging the reputation of the State.” Mukhtar Al-Hana'i informed the court that he was unable to pay the 500 Omani Riyal fee for the examination of his Facebook page. Moreover, he claimed that the prosecution had evidence that his Facebook account was in fact hacked when he was in detention, rendering him innocent. However, the judge refused to allow Mukhtar Al-Hana'i and his witnesses to testify and declared that the verdict of his case would be issued on 16 September 2012. His trial for alleged “illegal gathering” has been adjourned until 17 October 2012.

Meanwhile, Ms Habiba Al-Hana'i was recently summoned for questioning by the security forces and she was forced to sign a document pledging that she will no longer share any information regarding the trials of activists and human rights defenders in Oman.

Front Line Defenders condemns the ongoing judicial harassment of the aforementioned human rights defenders and peaceful protesters, and believes that it is directly related to their legitimate activities in the defense of human rights.

Front Line Defenders reiterates its call on the Omani authorities to immediately quash the convictions of the aforementioned human rights defenders and to drop all charges stemming from the legitimate exercise of the rights to freedom of assembly and expression. Please see the previous Front Line Defenders update from 28 August 2012: Oman:Update - Several human rights defenders released pending trial, but others remain in pre-trial detention.