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Alkarama Condemns Arrests of Omani Human Rights Activists
[The following statement was issued by Alkarama on 30 December 2012.]
On 5 and 12 December, the appeal court of Muscat upheld verdicts against 29 human rights activists, including 36 year-old Omani human rights defender Said Ben Sultan Al Hashimi, who will be serving prison sentences for charges such as 'insulting the Sultan' and 'unlawful gathering'. Alkarama strongly condemns the illegal detention of Sultan Al Hashimi and the 28 others which is clearly an assault against their right of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, as guaranteed by Omani and international legislation.
In the context of the wave of protests that shook the Arab world in 2011, the Sultanate of Oman was the scene of protests demanding reforms, denouncing corruption and requesting freedom of speech as well as real political participation for citizens. Mr Said Ben Sultan Al Hashimi – an employee of the Majlis Al Dawla (upper house of the Council of Oman) and a renowned writer & researcher- has been publicly advocating for institutional reform in Oman since 2011, reporting and discussing the human rights situation in Oman in various Arab and international media. Mr Al Hashimi was one of the leading activists during sit-ins outside the Majlis Al Shura (lower house of the Council of Oman) building in Muscat, where the largest protests took place.
On 8 April 2011, masked State Security agents in civilian clothing abducted Said Al Hashimi and another activist, Bassma Al Rajhi, and drove them deep into the desert, where they beat them and put them under intense psychological pressure by, among other things, staging their execution. The activists were then abandoned in the desert despite their severe injuries.
The authorities failed to provide information regarding the current state and any final outcome of the investigation supposedly initiated as a result of Mr Al Hashimi's complaint to the competent authorities.
Although this abduction was clearly meant to deter Mr Al Hashimi from participating in the peaceful protest movement, he continued to publicly speak to various media outlets and to call for political reforms. On 22 August 2011, for example, he publicly called for reforms during an interview on Al Hurra TV.
Mr Al Hashimi also continued to participate in demonstrations, such as the sit-in organised by the families of two human rights defenders (Ismail Al Muqbali and Habiba Al Hina'i) and a prominent local lawyer (Yaqoub Al Kharoussi) on 9 June 2012. The three activists had been arrested on 31 May 2012 and their whereabouts were unknown at the time.
Arrest and Arbitrary Detention
Two days later, on 11 June, dozens of people peacefully gathered in front of police headquarters in Muscat to request information about the whereabouts of Ms Al Hina'i and Messrs Al Muqbali and Al Kharoussi. At 6 pm, Mr Al Hashimi and the other demonstrators (7 women and 21 men) were all arrested by the Omani Police's special forces, handcuffed and transferred to different detention centres without being notified of the reason for their arrest. After 16 days in Sama'il Central Prison, Mr Al Hashimi was transferred to Intelligence Security prison located in Muscat.
Mr Al Hashimi appeared for the first time in court a week after his arrest. He attended four hearings before the verdict was pronounced on 8 August. That day, Mr Al Hashimi was sentenced alongside other activists to 18 months prison on charges of "holding an illegal gathering" (6 months), "obstructing the traffic" (12 months) and a fine of 200 Rials (520 USD), despite having avoided the road throughout their sit-in. In addition, the photographs and the names of the protesters tried were widely published in the Omani media in an apparent attempt to shame their families.
The Court of Appeal upheld Mr Al Hashimi's 18 month sentence on 12 December. Released on bail after the first instance verdict on 8 August, Mr Al Hashimi was again arrested on 12 December and is currently detained in the Sama'il Central Prison to serve his 18-month sentence.
Mr Al Hashimi's arrest and detention clearly illustrates a crackdown targeting people exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as guaranteed by Omani Law and international legislation. The excessive nature of the verdicts against Mr Al Hashimi and other activists as well as the publication of their pictures and names in the local press further show that their cases are used to set an example.
Alkarama strongly condemns the unlawful arrest and detention of Mr Al Hashimi and his 28 fellow activists and calls on the Omani authorities to release them immediately. We submitted his case to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on 27 December 2012.
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