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Middle East
Jail terms for Omanis for online 'slander'
A court sentences six for comments posted on social media that it says insulted Oman's ruler, Sultan Qaboos.
Last Modified: 17 Jul 2012 21:18
Last year's protests were in the towns of Sohar and Salalah [Al Jazeera]

An Omani court has sentenced six people to jail terms of 12 to 18 months for comments posted on social media that it said amounted to slander against the ruling sultan.

A defence lawyer said on Tuesday that the rulings - issued on Monday - extend a crackdown on dissent, which has flared anew after Oman quelled its own version of Arab Spring protests last year.

The defendants paid fines and bail of 1000 Omani rials ($2,600) each, lawyer Badr al-Bahri said. An appeal hearing was set for September 10.

Four other people were sentenced to up to a year in jail last week over comments directed against Sultan Qaboos during protests that arose alongside strikes in the oil sector - which accounts for most state revenue - in late May.

Oman sits astride the Gulf sea lanes through which a third of the world's seaborne oil trade passes.

Official figures say a quarter of all Omanis are without work.

The government has tried to quell the protests by promising to create tens of thousands of public sector jobs, but protesters say it has failed to deliver, and are demanding support payments for the unemployed. Many have directed their anger at the once-sacrosanct figure of the sultan himself.

The rights group Amnesty International called on Omani authorities to overturn the convictions.

"These sentences are the latest phase in the Omani government's orchestrated crackdown on freedom of expression and assembly, which has been under way since last year," said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International.

Unusually for Oman, the official news agency on Monday published photographs and full names of those newly convicted, which some activists said amounted to incitement against them, and a warning to others.

"Not even drug dealers and common criminals have been subjected to something like this," said one activist, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"They have the privilege of being identified by their initials and with their faces obscured."

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