The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Omani Association for Human Rights (OAHR) call on the authorities to respect freedom of expression and assembly after protests spread across several areas of the country, and the authorities attempted to restrict the media from reporting about demonstrations.
On 23 May 2021, protests erupted in the city of Sohar, which is 234 km north of the capital, Muscat, by unemployed or laid-off Omani youths, who raised numerous slogans, including:
“Young people are the homeland’s wealth!!! So why are they wasted?? (Omani citizen) demands their most basic rights!!!”
They gathered in front of the General Directorate of Labour in Sohar, where they were surrounded by large security forces on foot and in cars. Reliable reports received by GCHR and OAHR confirmed the arrests of a number of protesters, who were transported away from the gathering place to an unknown destination.
The Ministry of Labour issued a statement on the same day in which it confirmed that, “A number of citizens gathered in front of the General Directorate of Labour building in Al-Batinah North Governorate, demanding job opportunities and solving the problems of some of those who were laid off.” Al-Batinah North Governorate comprises six provinces, including Sohar.
Despite the arrest of a group of protesters, dozens of citizens gathered again in Sohar the next day, 24 May 2021, in front of the Al-Batinah North governor’s office, where security forces used tear gas heavily to disperse them. The news received by GCHR and OAHR confirmed more arrests of protesters and the confiscation of their mobile phones. There are reports that the security forces surrounded the protesters, arrested them, and transferred them all to an unknown destination.
Later, on the same day, a mass march of enthusiastic citizens began, chanting slogans such as “Come out, come out, you oppressed. Seek your rights no matter what.”
Reliable local sources confirmed to GCHR and OAHR that on the evening of 24 May 2021, all the detained protesters in Sohar were released.
In Dhofar, an appeal was distributed on 23 May 2021 which stated, “To every job seeker and every person concerned with the interest of youth in this country. Tomorrow there are two points of peaceful gathering in solidarity with our brothers in Sohar, in the celebrations square, and the Ministry of Labour.”
The mass demonstrations began the next day, with the participation of hundreds of citizens at these two points, who were met with a massive mobilisation by the security forces. A group of them were arrested and then released later that same day.
Also, there are news reports that confirmed the occurrence of demonstrations and protests in Salalah, who raised the same demands that the protesters demanded in other regions, including providing job opportunities for unemployed youth, returning laid-off workers to their jobs, and improving the living conditions of citizens in general.
The hashtag that became the most popular in Oman and trended on Twitter on 24 May 2021 is
#Ibri_Respond. Ibri is one of the cities in Al-Dhahirah Governorate, and a call was distributed to, “All unemployed and laid-off youths of Al-Dhahirah (Ibri), tomorrow we organise a peaceful gathering at eight in the morning near the Ministry of Labour, in solidarity with our brothers in Sohar and the rest of the states to demand reforms and draw attention Officials in the country to the conditions attained by the citizen.”
Reliable sources in Oman stated that a strongly worded circular was issued by higher authorities to all media outlets, including daily newspapers, not to address the issue of peaceful assembly in Sohar, Dhofar, Salalah and the rest of the Omani regions, otherwise permits will be withdrawn. The authorities were forced to backtrack on this decision later after many international media reported on these events.
The recent events in Gaza and its citizens’ steadfastness in the face of brutal aggression, have motivated the citizens of Oman to carry out their current protests.
The first Omani protests also started in the Governorate of Sohar on 25 February 2011, after a large wave of massive protests swept through the Arab world, especially Egypt and Tunisia. These protests were led by Omani civil society activists, and citizens of all types participated in them, especially the youth, who staged a sit-in in Muscat, Sohar and Salalah, which are the areas where the protests were focused. They called for comprehensive political, economic and social reforms. Security forces used rubber bullets and water cannons to disperse the protesters and arrested a large number of activists who faced unfair trials that resulted in unfair prison sentences and fines. They were all released after the former Sultan, Qaboos bin Said, issued his royal pardon for him, shortly before they completed their sentence.
While the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Omani Association for Human Rights (OAHR) declare their absolute solidarity with the Omani citizens who exercised their rights to demonstrate and peacefully assemble in order to demand improvement in their living conditions, the two NGOs strongly condemn the security forces’ intimidation, repression and arrest of a large number of peaceful protesters.
The Omani government should immediately end the policy of silencing and restricting public freedoms, including freedom of peaceful protest and freedom of the press. The authorities in Oman must respect public freedoms, including freedom of expression and opinion, on and off the Internet. The security forces must fulfill their duties to protect citizens, not to oppress them, while they peacefully demand their civil and human rights.
Source: Gulf Center of Human Rights