As local blogger Susan Al Shahari notes, the law is far from clear as to where the line is between fair comment and jail time. This is an issue discussed before on Muscat Confidential here
“Article 26: It is prohibited to publish anything which may prejudice the safety of the state or its internal or external security or all that relates to military and security apparatuses, their bylaws and internal regulations, any documents or information or news or official secret communications, either by publication through visual, audio or print media or through the Internet or any means of the information technology unless a permission is obtained from the competent authority.
It is also prohibited to publish the wordings of the agreements and treaties concluded by the government before they are published in the official gazette."
Oman's citizens and residents have never had freedom of expression, as it has always been subject to broad, vague, ill-defined rules that make any critical statement about the government illegal. And not just illegal, but criminal.
If the report is correct, the bloggers have actually been charged with incitement to protest. As noted in the HRW article, this is even more insidious, as apparently even the law for this charge is secret.
On June 4 the public prosecutor formally charged all three with “inciting to protest,” and released al-Hana’i and al-Khorousi on bail. The public prosecution renewed al-Meqbali’s detention for an additional seven days while it researched further charges, though none have been announced. An Omani lawyer who asked not to be identified said that the charge of “incitement to protest” is a state security crime not covered under the regular Penal Code. Authorities have not made public the code enumerating crimes falling under state security and punishments associated with them.
Several of the 'activists' have started a facebook page 'Humanitarian initiative for human rights in Oman'. Check it out!
The ROP and Public Prosecution are out of their depth, holding several arrested without charge or access to legal council for 4 days, according to the HRW report. The laws are so broad and draconian that denying them the few rights they actually do have [24hrs before you should be charged and given access to a lawyer, no beatings or torture] is really stupid.
The facebook page is reporting another arrest too, this time of a photographer.
Folks, try to understand. Oman is governed as an autocracy. In fact, Oman is one of the few absolute monarchies left, the others being Saudi, Brunei, Qatar and Swaziland. HM is not bound by a constitution, he can issue any decree he wants.
You've probably noticed that all laws are "Royal Decrees", as only the Sultan can make law. You get to 'vote' but political parties are banned. And the people you elect can only make requests of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos. It is a criminal offense to criticise the Government. It is a criminal offense to encourage anyone to protest. It is a criminal offense to protest without permission. It is even a criminal offense to publish the name of someone who has been convicted of a crime in public court!
You do not, and have never had, a right of free speech. You are only allowed to express yourself if what you have to say supports the Government, and doesn't offend anyone. That a statement is true is not a defense. That a statement is only of personal opinion is not a defense.
Reread that new article 26 above.
Is it any wonder The Economist just called Oman "the nicest police state in the world"?