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Oman: Appeals Court upholds three-year sentence for online activist Hassan Al-Basham

2016-06-15

On 13 June 2016, the Court of Appeal in Sohar upheld the three-year prison sentence against online activist Hassan Al-Basham, which is related to his human rights activities. A fine related to the charge of "insulting the Sultan" was overturned, according to reports received by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR).

Al-Basham was reportedly already in custody and unconfirmed reports said that he was transferred to the central prison in the Samail province to serve the sentence. He had been arrested on 03 May 2016 after the publication of some of his writings on Facebook and was being held in Liwa Province police station.

On 08 February 2016, the Court of First Instance Court in Sohar sentenced Al-Basham to three years in prison. He was convicted on charges of "the use of the Internet in what might be prejudicial to religious values." He was also convicted of allegedly "insulting the Sultan" and fined 500 Omani Rials (US$1300) – a fine which has now been dropped. See: http://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/1182

In the same hearing in February, the court issued several prison sentences against Al-Basham that are required by the Omani Penal Code to be merged. The longest sentence of three years in prison was implemented. He was released on bail of 50 Omani Rials (approximately US$130) pending the outcome of the appeals hearing.

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.

Al-Basham is an online activist who with 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 more jobs, as well as combatting corruption. 

The GCHR expresses serious concern at the three-year sentence upheld against Hassan Al-Basham and fears for his physical and psychological integrity. GCHR believes that he has been targeted as part of an ongoing trend of targeting human rights defenders and online activists in Oman by the ISS which endangers freedom of expression in the country.

The GCHR urges the authorities in Oman to: 

  1. Revoke the three-year prison sentence against online activist Hassan Al-Basham and ensure his immediate and unconditional release;
  2. Grant Hassan Al-Basham immediate and unfettered access to his family and lawyer;
  3. Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Hassan Al-Basham; and
  4. 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.