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Oman: Internal Security Service continues its systematic targeting of human rights defenders & online activists

2016-03-13

Online activist Hassan Al-Basham has allegedly been tortured in detention in Oman recently, according to reports received by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR). In addition, another online activist, Hilal Al-Alawi, was summoned and is being held incommunicado.

On 17 September 2015, Al-Basham was first arrested by the Internal Security Service (ISS) and appeared before the Special Division of the Omani Police in Sohar. He was released on 23 September 2015, and then arrested again two days later, on 25 September 2015, and subjected to a prolonged interrogation at the Special Division in Sohar. On 29 September 2015, he was transferred to Sohar hospital after he suffered partial paralysis in his face.

Reliable reports have  suggested that Al-Basham was subjected to torture at the hands of the employees of the Special Division of the Omani Police in Sohar, which was recently opened and represents the executive arm of the ISS. He was reportedly tied to a chair during every day of his detention. Also, they prevented him from sleeping and then allowed him to sleep on the ground in a cell where his health deteriorated, which immediately required him to be transferred to Sohar hospital for treatment. He stayed in the hospital for a short period. However, he still continues to go from home to get the necessary medical care.

On 08 February 2016, the Court of First Instance in Sohar sentenced Al-Basham o three years in prison. He was convicted of charges including allegedly "insulting the Sultan" and "the use of the Internet in what might be prejudicial to religious values." He appealed the sentence after he paid a bail of 50 Omani Rials (approximately US$130.)

Al-Basham is an online activist who in his numerous writings has defended prisoners of conscience. He also carries out other activities on social and humanitarian levels. He participated in the 2011 protests during the Arab Spring, which in Oman focused on improving social conditions such as calling for more jobs, as well as combatting corruption.

In a separate case, on 29 February 2016, human rights defender and Internet activist Hilal Al-Alawi was summoned for interrogation before the Special Division of the Omani Police in Sohar, where he was held incommunicado. There is no official information available about his whereabouts as he is not allowed access to his family or lawyer. However, information received indicated that may be detained in the cells of the Special Division in Sohar. Reports confirmed that his arrest is linked to a clip he published on WhatsApp on the anniversary of the outbreak of protests in Sohar which he encountered on 26 February 2016.

On 23 August 2015, Al-Alawi was arrested and then released on 31 August 2015. He was detained incommunicado at the Special Division in Muscat. He was also arrested in 2011 in relation to Sohar protests and sentenced to five years in prison after being charged with allegedly “forcing the civil servants out of their offices.” He was released after two and a half years through an amnesty by Sultan Qaboos. He is a popular human rights figure who, while in detention, started many hunger strikes and sewed his mouth shut many times with a needle and thread.

Al-Alawi is a well-known human rights defender, Internet activist, and blogger. He has continued in recent years his online activities in defence of detained human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience.

For more information about recent human rights violations committed by the ISS in Oman, see the following link: http://www.gc4hr.org/news/index/country/6

GCHR expresses serious concern at the reports that the ISS has allegedly tortured Hassan Al-Basham, and about the incommunicado detention of Hilal Al-Alawi. In addition, it appears that the new Special Division of the Omani Police in Sohar is being used to target human rights defenders and Internet activists, which infringes upon their freedom of opinion. GCHR believes that these actions form part of an ongoing trend of targeting human rights defenders and online activists, which endangers freedom of expression in the country.

GCHR urges the authorities in Oman to: 

  1. Revoke the three-year prison sentence against online activist Hassan Al-Basham without any condition and stop targeting him;
  2. Conduct an independent, thorough and impartial investigation into the alleged torture and ill-treatment of Hassan Al-Basham, in order to identify those responsible and bring them to justice;
  3. Release Hilal Al-Alawi  immediately without restrictions and stop targeting him;
  4. Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Hilal Al-Alawi as long as he is kept in prison; and
  5. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Oman are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment. 

The GCHR respectfully reminds the Omani authorities that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognizes the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to Article 6 (c): “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters;” and to Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.