Oman: Four Netizens Get Jail Sentences on Lèse-Majesté Charges

[Media News]

Friday, July 13, 2012

By Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Without Borders is dismayed to learn that a Muscat court passed jail sentences on four bloggers and online activists on 9 July on charges of insulting and defaming Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Three were given one-year sentences. The fourth got six months.

“On the pretext of punishing allegedly defamatory comments, the sultanate’s justice system is stifling dissent by urging its citizens to express their opinions in a ‘legal’ manner and in accordance with the ‘legal definition’ of free speech, which seems to leave little room for freedom of expression,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“We call for this verdict to be overturned on appeal and we urge the authorities to end their abusive prosecutions of dissidents, who are just exercising their right to impart and receive news and information.”

Hamoud Al-Rashdi, a writer, was sentenced to six months in prison and a fine of 200 rials (425 euros) for publicly insulting the sultan. The other three – the poet Hamad Al-Kharousi, the poet and activist Mahmoud Al-Rawahi and the activist Ali Al-Mikbali– were sentenced to a year in prison and a fine of 200 rials for insulting and defaming the sultan online.

According to Muscat Daily, Rashdi was convicted under article 126 of the Criminal Law, which punishes “defaming His Majesty the Sultan or his authority publicly,” while the others were convicted under this article and articles 16 and 19 of the Cybercrime Law.

Article 16 punishes using the Internet or other technological methods to defame, insult or invade privacy. Article 19 punishes using the Internet to spread or promote attacks on religious values or threats to public order.

All four were released on bail of 1,000 rials (2,130 euros) pending the outcome of their appeal, which is due to be heard in September.

Their convictions follow a wave of arrests in June and are part of a government campaign against netizens who are demanding political reforms.

Rashdi and Kharousi were arrested on 8 June, on the same day as several other bloggers and writers who are still being held without being officially charged. According to a source close to the case, not all of them have been able to see a lawyer.

The Dublin-based Front Line Defenders said it was thought that Al-Rashdi was arrested for carrying a banner critical of the authorities and that Al-Kharousi was arrested for writing a poem critical of the sultan.

Al-Mikbali was arrested on 9 June for comments he had posted online, while Al-Rawahi was arrested two days later during a sit-in. Al-Rawahy is also charged – along with around 20 other activists – with participating in an illegal demonstration. The verdict is due on 22 July.

The attorney-general’s office issued a statement on 13 June deploring an increase in insulting and defamatory comments and calls for demonstrations and strikes. They were incompatible with the values and ethics of Omani society and the principle of free speech, and could threaten public order and the national interest, it said.

The statement went on to announce that the main instigators had been arrested. An investigation would be carried out in accordance with legal procedures and those responsible would be brought to trial. The attorney-general’s office would continue to ensure respect for the laws and the rules of good conduct, it added.

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