Omani authorities seize books at Muscat international book fair
Omani authorities continue to restrict the right to freedom of expression, most recently targeting the Muscat International Book Fair. Authorities in Oman confiscated a number of books during the international event held in the country from 21st February to 3rd March 2018. According to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Omani Centre for Human Rights, authorities gave no reason for confiscating the books and did not reveal who was behind the decision.
According to the GCHR, some of the confiscated books have been highly celebrated and awarded and a number were published by the Ministry of Heritage and Culture of Oman. In fact, the Ministry of Heritage and Culture of Oman organised the book fair, adding to the confusion over the arbitrary confiscation of some of the featured texts. As previously featured on the CIVICUS Monitor, concerns over the respect for freedom of expression have grown since the imposition of a restrictive new penal code in early 2018. Similarly, as highlighted by the Omani Centre for Human Rights, this incident has sparked a debate over editorial independence in Oman. In addition to confiscation of publications and legal restrictions on freedom of expression, the Omani state apparatus can also exert pressure on publishers to prevent critical authors from publishing and disseminating their works. In a statement, the Centre drew attention to this issue, declaring that:
"The approach taken by official bodies dealing with culture and books in Oman is to enter into contracts with publishing houses as a way of putting pressure on them not to publish books by opponents of the government. This has led to virtual silence on the part of publishers, and a tacit agreement not to publish books by some writers".
Among the books confiscated were four texts by Saeed Al-Hashimi, Song of Shadow, Yasmin on Absence, The Omani Spring, and Oman: Human & Power. Others included: Who Does not Like Gamal Abdulnasser by Suleiman Al-Maamari, A Woman Who Laughs not her Time byr Nabhan Al-Hanashi, The Turban of the Military by Hamoud Saud, Khattab between the Gloominess of the Grave by Mohammed Al-Fazari, and The Gulf in the Time of Cholera by Zaher Al-Mahrouqi. The book Samahani by Abdulaziz Baraka was also banned, prompting the Sudanese author to condemn the Omani authorities attempts at censorship by calling upon them to not "imprison words".
On 29th January 2018, the Omani Centre for Human Rights reported on the gathering of protesters in front of the Ministry of Manpower and its directorates in some cities (Muscat, Salalah and Sur). People mobilised to pressure the Omani authorities to find a solution to the country's growing issue of unemployment. According to reports, over 60,000 graduates are currently jobless in Oman and despite pledges for more employment opportunities, Omani authorities have failed to deliver an adequate plan of action.
Reports note that protesters also gathered on 15th and 22nd January, and some protesters were arrested and detained during those two days of protests. For example, the video below shows protesters being arrested in Salalah.