Omani authorities restrict free expression through censorship and arrests of activists

Expression

The Omani government has restricted freedom of the press by shutting down print and online publications. On World Press Freedom Day in May 2017, the Omani Internal Security Service (ISS) blocked access to the website Mowaten (Citizen) - an independent electronic journal covering a range of political and human rights issues in Oman and the Arabian Gulf since 2013. The authorities have previously harassed the journal's staff, forcing the publication to temporarily suspend operations in 2016. 

As previously covered on the Monitor, in August 2016 the Ministry of Information ordered the closure of the independent Azamn newspaper. On 8th May 2017, the Minister of Information issued another directive extending the suspension for another three months – despite a decision by the Court of Appeals to allow the newspaper to reopen earlier this year.

In addition to the state crackdown on print and online media, journalists and human rights defenders exercising their right to freedom of expression continue to be arrested and tried in courts where there is insufficient guarantee of the right to due process.

In April 2017, the Internal Security Service arrested teacher and human rights defender Ahmed Al-Bahri and internet activist Khalid Al-Ramadani. 

On 15th April 2017, the authorities arrested Internet activist Khalid Al-Ramadani at the Wadi Al-Jizi border crossing between Oman and the United Arab Emirates. He was then transferred to the Special Division of the Omani Police General Command in Muscat, where he was not allowed to meet his family or speak to a lawyer. The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) received reports suggesting that the reason for his arrest was his criticism of the government and cases of corruption found in his writings on his personal Facebook page.

On 17 April 2017, ISS summoned Al-Bahri for interrogation and detained him at the Special Division of the Omani Police General Command in the capital, Muscat. According to information received by GCHR, the reason for his arrest was his criticism on his personal Facebook page about the Omani police's use of four-wheel drive cars that block visibility and cause crowding in the streets of the province of Buraimi, where Al-Bahri lives. It is not the first time Al-Bahri has been targeted by the authorities. In 2014, he was sentenced to a one year (suspended) prison sentence with a fine of RO 1,000 (2,600 USD) on charges of "disrupting public order" after his active participation in a teacher-organised strike. 

In a separate incident, on 23rd May 2017, the Court of First Instance sentenced writer and researcher Mansour Bin Nasser Al-Mahrazi to three years in prison. Al-Mahrazi was charged with "insulting the Sultan" and "undermining the status of the country" in two books he wrote in 2014 and 2016. The sentencing of Al-Mahrazi is the latest attack on freedom of expression by the Omani authorities and further evidence of a growing crackdown on citizens freely expressing their opinions or criticism.