Court cancels two prison sentences as authorities still target HRDs
Human rights activists welcomed the revocation of the sentence imposed on online activist Hassan Al-Basham, as well as the suspension of writer Hamood Al-Shukaily's prison sentence. Despite these positive moves by the authorities, in general the freedom of expression continues to come under attack, as illustrated by the continued targeting of the Azamn newspaper and the family of blogger Mohammed Al-Fazari. Human rights defenders also continue to be targeted, as exemplified by the case of Saeed Jadad.
As already documented by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, on 17th January the Omani High Court revoked the three-year prison sentence which had been handed down to Hassan Al-Basham. Hassan Al-Basham was first arrested in September 2015 and charged in connection with his online activities in defence of human rights.
On the following day, the Court of Appeals in Muscat examined the case against writer and author Hammood Al-Shukaily and ordered the “stopping of the prison sentence." Al-Shukaily is a member of the Omani Society for Writers and Authors and a teacher of Arabic language. He had been arrested by the Internal Security Service (ISS) on 14th August 2016, reportedly in connection with his Facebook posts about the arrests of the Azamn newspaper journalists and corruption in Oman.
In less welcome news, on 8th January Saeed Jadad was stopped at Salalah airport before he could board a flight to Doha, He was informed that he had been banned from travelling until 2099. Jadad had been released last August after serving a one-year prison sentence on charges of "using an information network (the Internet) in the dissemination of material that would prejudice public order".
On 30th January, the authorities detained the family of blogger Mohammad Al-Fazari - his wife, three-year old daughter and one-year old son - at the border between Oman and the United Arab Emirates, where they were going to fly through Dubai Airport. After confiscating their passports, they informed them that they were to appear before the Special Division of the police in the Omani capital, Muscat.
On 23rd January, the Public Prosecutor appealed to the High Court against the verdict issued by the Court of Appeals in Muscat on 26th December, which had overturned the decision to shut down the Azamn newspaper. The verdict had also acquitted journalist Zaher Al-Abri while sentencing Yousef Al-Haj to one year and Ibrahim Al-Maamari to six months in prison. The Court of Appeals had also revoked the Ministry of Information's decision to shut down Azamn. On 8th January, the information minister had issued a directive extending the newspaper's closure.
In a statement issued on 31st January, the GCHR urged the Omani authorities to:
- Immediately and unconditionally allow the family of Mohammad Al-Fazari to travel and stop any harassment in any form against them;
- Revoke the latest sentences against the two “Azamn” journalists, Ibrahim Al-Maamari and Yousef Al-Haj;
- Provide a secure environment for “Azamn” newspaper to do its journalistic work;
- Protect freedom of the press in the country; and
- Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders including journalists, writers and on-line activists in Oman are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.
Released in January, Human Rights Watch’s 2017 Global Report highlights current restrictions on the freedoms of association and assembly in Oman, noting that Article 42 of the Civil Societies Law makes it a crime punishable by up to 6 months’ imprisonment and a fine of 500 Rials (approximately $1,300) for any association to receive funding from abroad without government approval. Additionally, the report notes that all public gatherings in Oman require advance official approval and that the authorities routinely arrest and prosecute participants in unapproved public gatherings and sometimes even prohibit private ones.