Omani authorities should immediately drop charges against the human rights activist and blogger Saeed Jaddad for “undermining the status and prestige of the state.” They should also stop harassing him, which he says has included detention without charge, interrogations, surveillance, and a politically motivated attempt to evict him.
Jaddad, 43, has called for political and social reforms on Facebook and his blog, and has been involved with European Parliament human rights bodies to advocate for improved compliance with international human rights standards by Oman.Jaddad was a key organizer of pro-reform protests in 2011 in the Dhofar region in southern Oman. The arrests and intimidation appear to be linked to his peaceful activism for reform, Human Rights Watch said.
“Even though the sultan pardoned dozens of pro-reform activists in March, Jaddad’s arrest shows that those who speak out for human rights in Oman remain at risk,”said Nadim Houry, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Prosecuting Omanis for speaking out for reform does far more to damage to Oman’s prestige than their peaceful advocacy.”
In 2012, Omani authoritiesconvicted and sentenced 35 activists to between six months and 18 months in prison on various charges including “defaming the Sultan,” “illegal gathering,” and violating Oman’s cybercrimes law through their Facebook posts and Twitter comments.
Omani police arrested Jaddad in January 2013 and held him for eight days in solitary confinement based on charges that included calling for demonstrations and heaping discredit on state officials before releasing him on bail. Jaddad said that police urged him to sign a statement that he would cease his pro-reform and human rights activities, which Jaddad refused.
On July 21, the Public Prosecution Office interrogated Jaddad in connection with his January arrest but under a new charge of “undermining the status and prestige of the state.” The authorities released him on bail but threatened that he might be interrogated again and that the case might go to trial.
Jaddad told Human Rights Watch that on the morning of July 3 more than 10 police officers appeared at a rural property he owns in the Dhofar region and claimed they had come to evict him. He said they threatened to demolish his home while he was still inside and then detained him.
He said that he had obtained the property through a property swap earlier in 2013 with the local municipality, but that authorities failed to send him the legal documentation for his new property, leaving him vulnerable to eviction.
Police in Salala, the Dhofar province capital, held Jaddad for one night on charges of “resisting the authorities” for allegedly refusing to vacate the property. They transferred him to three other locations during his detention. At one point they placed him in a 3-by-4-meter cell with more than 15 other prisoners, little ventilation, and poor sanitary conditions. Jaddad said that officials threatened to deny him access to medication for his heart and back problems as well as high blood pressure. They released him on bail on July 4.
Jaddad told Human Rights Watch that on the night after his release, unidentified men shattered his car windows. On July 14, police called Jaddad’s son and ordered him to bring his father to the local police station in Salala but refused when asked to give a reason for the summons. Jaddad said that later that day, people who refused to identify themselves knocked on his door asking for him. He said he believes security officials are closely monitoring his home because he has seen civilian cars with unfamiliar occupants outside.
Oman should reform the penal code and annul articles that violate basic rights, including freedom of expression, association and assembly, and in the meantime should not enforce provisions of the code that violate fundamental human rights norms, Human Rights Watch said.
Article 32 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which Oman acceded to in 2004, guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and to impart news to others by any means. The only restrictions allowed on the practice of this right are to “respect for the rights of others, their reputation, or the protection of national security, public order, public health, or public morals.” The UN Human Rights Committee has stated that similarly worded restrictions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) do not allow states to criminalize defaming the head of state or other political figures.
Under the United Nations General Assembly’s Declaration on Human Rights Defenders of 1998, Oman has the responsibility to “conduct prompt and impartial investigations of alleged violations of human rights” and to protect human rights defenders from “threats, retaliation, adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action” as a result of their rights advocacy.
“Instead of targeting Jaddad and other human rights activists, the Omani government should publicly commit to respecting and protecting the human rights of all Omanis,” Houry said.