Muscat: Oman released 49 citizens who were arrested last Friday for staging protests outside the Royal Opera House Muscat after obtaining assurances from the defendants that they would not repeat such acts anywhere in the country.
All the protest accused were released from the high-security Central Prison in Sumayil late on Sunday afternoon.
“We were asked to sign a letter that stated that we agree not to stage any protests anywhere in Oman in future,” Sulaiman Al Hadhramai, a retired Shura Council employee who was part of the group that staged the demonstration, told Gulf News on Monday.
Al Hadhrami said he initially refused to sign the agreement. “It is against the constitution of Oman and against the penal code,” he said. He eventually signed the release agreement but insisted on recording the remark that it was illegal to make him sign the agreement.
“So far as we understand there are no charges against us and we are free,” he said in reply to a question.
Hours before the demonstrators were released from prison, Khamis Bin Salem Al Khalili, Assistant Attorney General, had said that one of the protesters had demanded the presence of his lawyer while being interrogated by the public prosecution.
According to the senior public prosecution officer, the demand for a lawyer had delayed the questioning and subsequent presentation of the defendants in court.
Speaking to the media on Monday, Al Khalili said he wasn’t aware of the new developments since he had been on holiday. “When I spoke at the media briefing, the latest news was that investigations had just begun, I don’t know what happened after that.”
Security forces had last Friday arrested demonstrators who gathered outside the opera house in the Qurum area for demonstrations and transferred them to the high-security Central Prison in Sumayel. The crowd had gathered in protest against a band member accompanying American jazz pianist Jason Moran for reciting verses from the Quran during a performance on February 28. The opera house expressed regret over the incident the next day and issued a public apology on its website but said the band member whose actions triggered the protest was a Muslim.
The release of the protesters may have implications for the way other cases of wrongful gathering are tackled.
In another case which saw 11 activists sent to jail by the primary court, the appeal court had upheld the lower court verdict. However, the supreme court has sent the case back to the appeal court and asked a new bench of judges to conduct the trial.
“The supreme court rejecting the appeal court’s verdict is proof that the judiciary and public prosecution are independent of each other,” Al Khalili said.
He added that he would not be able to comment on the case involving protesters arrested outside the opera house until he got to know the exact details. The demonstration that led to the arrest of the 49 people was similar in nature to the one that led to the arrest of the 11 activists but while all 49 arrested in the opera house case were released without charges, the 11 activists face charges of wrongful gathering.