Oman: Two activists detained by security authorities while a third activist referred to court
Reliable local reports received by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Omani Association for Human Rights (OAHR) confirmed that, on 28 February 2021, the security authorities in Oman’s Dhofar Governorate arrested poet and Internet activist Salem Ali Al-Maashani and Internet activist Amer Muslim Bait Saeed (Amr Al-Hkli). The arrests are a result of the Internal Security Service (ISS) campaign against activists who are seeking to preserve the traditional way of life in the Dhofar Plain that has existed for hundreds of years.
They reject plans to transfer authority over the Dhofar Plain to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning, which will allow the construction of housing complexes in these green spaces.
Reliable local sources stated that the two activists are being held by the Special Division of the Salalah Police Command, which summoned and arrested them as soon as they presented themselves. The Special Division, which represents the executive arm of the ISS, executes, on its behalf, arrest and detention orders for activists. These same sources confirmed that the Special Division also summoned a number of Twitter activists in the Dhofar Governorate who were forced to sign pledges not to tweet on the issue of transferring authority over the Dhofar Plain.
The poet Al-Maasani's Twitter page features the following phrase, “A person does not care about politics, except when he discovers that part of his unhappiness is decided by the government.” On 25 February 2021, he published a tweet calling for freedom for environmental activist Dr. Ahmed Issa Qatan, who has been detained since 23 February 2021, and he also emphasised the issue of transferring authority over the Dhofar Plain, noting, “The importance of attracting all components of society and involving them in this issue to draw up a road map in line with the interest of the homeland and the citizen." In another tweet he posted on 23 February 2021, he called on the authorities to respect freedom of opinion and expression, as stipulated in Articles 18, 29 and 31 of the Basic Law of the State.
Internet activist Bait Saeed manages a well-known YouTube channel under the name "Amr Al-Hkli", on which he publishes recordings that include his poems and video clips about beaches and various places in the Dhofar Governorate, as part of his efforts to promote tourism and attract tourists to visit these places. On 13 February 2021, he posted the following tweet on his Twitter account, which he uses to refuse to transfer ownership of in the Dhofar plan as well as to promote tourism, “Wonderful paradoxes! Some citizens hold camel festivals that support and encourage them, and at the same time, and on the other side, other citizens are banned from festivals and forced to leave their pastures as palaces and displaced from their homes. Are we all citizens of the same degree in this country?”
In a related case, the Public Prosecution’s office in the city of Salalah issued a letter bearing the number 10/2178/2021, which refers Dr. Ahmed Issa Qatan to the Court of First Instance in Salalah, which is now scheduled to hold its first session to consider his case on 03 March 2021. The referral letter alleges that Dr Qatan "Used the Internet to publish what would harm the public order by inflaming public opinion, undermining the integrity of the minister and those working with him, accusing them of corruption and favoritism while infringing on their personalities ... through the social networking application Twitter." The referral letter alleged that he had committed "a misdemeanor to use the Internet to publish information that would harm the public order, according to the text of Article 19 of the Omani Cyber Crime Law.
The Public Prosecution requested the court to confiscate the device used for the tweets in accordance with the provisions of Article 32/A, with the Twitter account used being permanently closed in accordance with the provisions of Article 32/B of the same law.
Article 19 of Oman's Cyber Crime Law states: “Shall be punished by imprisonment for a period no less than a month and not exceeding three years and a fine of not less than one thousand Omani Rials and not exceeding three thousand Omani Rials, or one of those two penalties, whoever uses the information network or information technology means in the production, publication, distribution, purchase or Possession of anything that would prejudice religious values or public order.”
For more information on the case, see: https://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/2618
GCHR and OAHR condemn in the strongest terms the arrest campaign led by the ISS against all environmental defenders in the Dhofar Governorate. The ISS should immediately release the three activists, Dr. Ahmed Issa Qatan, poet Salem Ali Al-Maashani and Internet activist Amer Muslim Bait Saeed (Amr Al-Hkli), and immediately end the policy of silencing other opinions and systematically targeting human rights defenders, including Internet activists.
The authorities are taking advantage of the current exceptional situation imposed by the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic to pass their plans to transfer authority of the Dhofar Plain at a time when citizens are preoccupied with matters of their health and self-preservation. The authorities in Oman must respect public freedoms, including freedom of expression and opinion, on and off the Internet.