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Human rights group calls for end to 'crackdown' on activists in Oman

By Jonathan Jensen and Aroub Abdelhaq, CNN
updated 9:33 AM EDT, Thu June 14, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gulf Center for Human Rights: 22 people were arrested at a rare protest in Oman's capital
  • Prosecutor says activists broke Omani law by using social media to incite unrest
  • They were demanding the release of activists reportedly arrested after a worker strike

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (CNN) -- A human rights groups has called for an end to the "sweeping crackdown" on political activists in Oman, following a spate of detentions in the Gulf state over the past two weeks.

A statement by the Gulf Center for Human Rights said that 22 people were arrested on June 11 at a rare protest in Oman's capital, Muscat.

An official with Oman's Ministry of Information declined to comment on the arrests to CNN.

Oman's public prosecutor, however, released a statement Wednesday accusing activists breaking Omani law by using social media to incite unrest.

"It has been noticed that there are growing participations and negative writings on discussion forums, social networking websites and mobile applications," Oman's Public Prosecution said in a statement issued through the official Oman News Agency. "These writings include libels, spreading rumors, provoking sit-ins and strikes."

Oman, which is strategically located across the Strait of Hormuz from Iran, was relatively immune to the Arab Spring protests that swept across much of the region last year.

Small-scale sit-ins and demonstrations, however, over economic conditions and wages erupted sporadically in March 2011, mostly in the nation's oil-rich northern region.

Despite government pledges of reform, the protesters detained this week were demanding the release of activists reportedly arrested following a worker strike at an oil facility last month.

"Omani activists are speaking out about broken promises for government reform," said Joe Stork, the deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Instead of listening, Omani authorities are arresting and prosecuting them to silence them."

The detained activists -- including writers, bloggers and at least one poet -- reportedly held a peaceful sit-in outside a Muscat police station for three days before it was quelled by dozens of security officers in riot gear.

Social media users in Oman shared photos of the protest on Twitter and Facebook, including pictures of several men apparently sitting in the back of what appears to be a security vehicle after the detentions.

One of the detainees arrested Monday was Ismail al-Meqbali, according to Human Rights Watch.

A relative of al-Meqbali, who lives in Oman and requested to remain anonymous for fear of arrest, said in a phone conversation with CNN that al-Meqbali wrote publicly about the need for reform online.

"He never insulted the system in Oman, but as a human rights activist, he always spoke against what he thinks is unjust for some," the relative said.

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