Amnesty International (AI) [official website] on Friday praised [press release] Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al-Said's [official website, in Arabic] decision to pardon all activists and writers convicted last year for insulting the ruler, information technology crimes and taking part in unauthorized protests. Qaboos issued the pardon [Reuters report] on Thursday and AI confirmed that all those held were released on Friday. Dozens of activists were pardoned. While applauding the pardon, AI stated that individuals exercising their right to freedom of expression should not have been imprisoned in the first place, and that AI hoped this pardon would spur Omani authorities to eliminate restrictions that limit and criminalize freedom of expression.
Several activists and bloggers have recently been subjected to the restrictive freedom of expression laws in Oman. Last September, an Omani blogger was sentenced [JURIST report] to one year of imprisonment by a Muscat court and fined 1,000 Omani Rials (USD $2,600). At the beginning of August 2012 Reporters Without Borders (RSF) [advocacy website] reported that 20 bloggers and Internet writers were fined and sentenced to imprisonment in Oman. The charges in those cases [RSF report] ranged from illegal assembly and disturbing public order to defaming the sultan and of cyber-crime. In July an Omani court sentenced six human rights activists [JURIST report] to between 12 and 18 months in prison for social media posts that were deemed to be slander against the country's ruler. The Omani authorities had detained more than 30 individuals who protested against the government to demand political reform, promote human rights and call for the release of human rights defenders whom Omani authorities had detained.