20 June 2012

Authorities arrest dozens of protesters, writers

Authorities have arrested at least 22 protesters and nine activists and writers since late May, in what the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) has called "the largest [crackdown] in months that has reached prominent members of the opposition and journalists."

The crackdown comes amid growing demands for reforms on social media networks and blogs. The bloggers and writers who were among the first to be arrested were believed to have been targeted for views they had expressed online, reports Reporters without Borders (RSF), quoting various Omani websites.

The first arrests occurred on 31 May, when three members of the Omani Group for Human Rights were picked up on their way to interview striking oil workers. The rights group maintains an active Facebook page and website where they document human rights developments in the country, reports Human Rights Watch. In the following week, six other activists were detained.

Finally, on 11 June, police descended on a sit-in organised in the capital of Muscat in solidarity with the writers and activists who had been arrested in the weeks prior, arresting 22 protesters, reports ANHRI. Several of the protesters had signed a public appeal earlier that day demanding the release of the nine activists.

Among those arrested at the sit-in was Said Al-Hashemi, a well-known writer and blogger who had previously been kidnapped and tortured, according to ANHRI, and two women rights defenders who have started a hunger strike against their on-going detention and the lack of access to their families and lawyers, according to the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR).

Earlier that week, on 4 June, the public prosecutor threatened to take "all appropriate legal measures" against activists who have made "inciting calls … under the pretext of freedom of expression."

Most of the arrested have not been formally charged, with the exception of a few who face charges of "incitement to protest." The charge is an alleged "state security crime" that falls outside of the purview of the regular penal code, and its potential punishments are not made public, reports Human Rights Watch, quoting an Omani lawyer who asked not to be identified.

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