x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

21 Omanis in jail for slandering Sultan Qaboos 'on hunger strike'

The prisoners, jailed for terms of up to 18 months last year for criticising the sultan on social media websites, stopped eating on Friday and are in hospital, a lawyer says.

Twenty-one Omanis jailed for slandering the country's ruler have gone on hunger strike in protest against what they say is their wrongful imprisonment, a lawyer said today.

The prisoners, jailed for terms of up to 18 months last year for criticising Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said on social media websites, stopped eating on Friday and have been taken to hospital, the lawyer, Yakoub Al Harthy, said.

"My information is that they are still in hospitals for treatment because of their hunger strike. They demand the high court overrule the prison sentences because they claim they are not guilty as charged," he said.

The comments against Sultan Qaboos, in power for 42 years and now the longest-ruling Arab head of state, were made during protests in late May that grew out of strikes in the oil sector, which accounts for most state revenue.

The rulings were part of a crackdown on dissenters after Oman quelled its own version of Arab Spring protests last year.

Oman tried to placate protesters by creating tens of thousands of public sector jobs.

But perceived failures and delays in implementation of the promises kept protests simmering and some popular anger was directed against the sultan.

Oman's public prosecutor pledged to prosecute anyone who criticised the leader under Oman's information technology law.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), set up by the government in 2008, said it had met the jailed protesters, according to the state-run daily newspaper, Oman Observer.

The commission "requests all those on hunger strike to stop the strike. It confirms that no one should interfere with the proceedings of justice," the newspaper quoted the commission as saying.