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HRW criticizes Oman for jailing social media activists

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Sunday criticized Omani courts for jailing two online activists over posts they wrote on social media websites. In one of the cases, former diplomat Hassan al-Basham was sentenced to three years in prison earlier this month for insulting God and the country's leader, Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, on Facebook and Twitter. Another Omani court sentenced artist and researcher Sayyid Abdullah al-Daruri to three months in prison for sharing a post on Facebook which it said emphasized his regional Dhofari affiliation. According to HRW, Omani authorities are able to restrict online postings under article 61 of the 2002 Telecommunications Act. The act penalizes "any person who sends, by means of telecommunications system, a message that violates public order or public morals." Joe Stork [official website], deputy Middle East director said "Courts are basically criminalizing peaceful dissent in Oman." Omani activists have also noted a decline of freedom of expression within the country.

In January 2015, UN rights experts urged [JURIST report] the Omani government to release Said Ali Said Jadad, a human rights activist. In 2012 the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) [advocacy website] urged [JURIST report] the government of Oman to stop arresting protesters and other activists who were calling for political reform. According to the GCHR, many of those arrested advocated for political reforms, promoted human rights and called for the release of human rights defenders whom Omani authorities had detained. The previous year an Omani court sentenced [JURIST report] six human rights activists to between 12 and 18 months in prison for social media posts deemed to be slander against the country's ruler, while another blogger was sentenced [JURIST report] to one year of imprisonment and a fine of 1,000 Omani Rials (USD $2,600). Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al-Said later pardoned all activists and writers convicted, a decision praised [JURIST report] by Amnesty International [advocacy website].

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