Oman: Oman: Courts revoke prison sentences of online activist Hassan Al-Basham and writer Hammood Al-Shukaily
Reports received by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) confirm that the High Court in Oman has revoked the three-year prison sentence against online activist Hassan Al-Basham. Also this week, the Appeal Court in Muscat suspended the prison sentence of writer and author Hammood Al-Shukaily.
On 17 January 2017 the High Court revoked the three-year prison sentence against Hassan Al-Basham after its examination of his case. The ruling was based on his deteriorating health and the case has now been referred back to the Court of First Instance in Sohar, which issued the verdict in the first place. The court took into account the fact that the request by the defence team to carry out a medical examination of the defendant was ignored during the trial.
Al-Basham is reportedly kept at the central prison in Samail province and some reports suggested that he will be released shortly.
On 13 June 2016, the Court of Appeal in Sohar upheld the three-year prison sentence against Al-Basham, which is related to his human rights activities. A fine related to the charge of "insulting the Sultan" was overturned. On 08 February 2016, the Court of First Instance in Sohar had sentenced Al-Basham to three years in prison 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) – which was later dropped. See: https://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/1182
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.
In a separate case, on 18 January 2017, the Appeal Court in Muscat examined the case against writer and author Hammood Al-Shukaily and ruled "to accept the appeal in form and reject it in substance in addition to stopping the prison sentence." Al-Shukaily is a member of the Omani Society for Writers and Authors and a teacher of Arabic language.
On 18 October 2016, the Court of First Instance in Muscat had sentenced Al-Shukaily to three years in prison in addition to a fine of 1000 OMR (US$2600) on charges of "incitement to protest." The court set bail at 5000 OMR (US$13,000) in order for Al-Shukaily to appeal the verdict.
On 14 August 2016, the Internal Security Service (ISS) had arrested Al-Shukaily, reportedly in connection with his posts on Facebook about the arrests of the “Azamn” newspaper journalists and about corruption in Oman. His trial was based on charges for a poem on Facebook. For more information on the case, see: https://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/1464
He was released on 18 October 2016, after the hearing of the Court of First Instance in Muscat that has been mentioned above.
While GCHR welcomes the decision by the Omani courts to revoke and suspend the three-year prison sentences against Hassan Al-Basham and Hammood Al-Shukaily respectively, it calls on authorities in Oman to drop all the charges against them immediately and without any conditions. GCHR believes that they have 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.
GCHR urges the authorities in Oman to:
- Release online activist Hassan Al-Basham immediately and unconditionally as the sentence has been revoked by the Highest Court in the land and there is no basis for him to stay in prison;
- Stop targeting Hassan Al-Basham and Hammood Al-Shukaily immediately, as they have been charged in violation of their right to free expression;
- Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Hassan Al-Basham and Hammood Al-Shukaily; and
- 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.
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.”