Muscat Omani judicial authorities said on Wednesday they plan to file charges against bloggers arrested last month for demanding political reforms in the country, which was hit by a wave of protests in 2011.
The bloggers “will be interrogated and referred to the judiciary,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement released on the official Oman news agency.
No details were given on what the charges would be, but the statement called on “all citizens to respect the law when expressing their opinion.”
The announcement came just hours after the Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders urged Oman to release the bloggers.
“We are concerned about the crackdown on Oman’s bloggers aimed at silencing the protest movement that has resurfaced in the sultanate, as well as its websites,” said RSF.
“We deplore the illegal and random nature of these arrests. We ask the authorities to release the bloggers immediately and unconditionally and to call a halt to arbitrary arrests,” it said in a statement.
RSF said blogger Esmail Al Meqbali, a member of the Oman Group for Human Rights, was arrested along with two other activists, Habiba Al Hinai and Yaqoub Al Kharusi on May 31.
They appeared in court on June 4, and were charged with “inciting the crowd” to demonstrate against the government. Hinai and Kharusi were released the same day but Al Meqbali remained in detention for another week, said RSF.
Another activist blogger, Eshaq Al Aghbari, was arrested on June 4. Two days later, Khalfan Al Badwawi, an engineer and blogger who was one of the organisers of protests last year, was also arrested.
A further wave of arrests took place on June 8, the watchdog said.
Among those held were bloggers Nabhan Al Hinshi and Hassan Al Raqishi, the writer Humood Al Rashdi, the poet Hamad Al Kharousi and two poets and activists, Ali Al Saedi and Ali Al Hajji, it added.
Human Rights Watch also urged Omani authorities to “immediately” release the activists.
“Omani activists are speaking out about broken promises for government reform,” said Joe Stork, HRW deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of listening, Omani authorities are arresting and prosecuting them to silence them.”
“Charging activists with incitement to protest for peacefully expressing their opinions violates international standards that Oman has pledged to uphold,” Stork said. “The government should immediately release all the activists and halt this campaign of intimidation.”
On Tuesday, Omani police peacefully dispersed a demonstration in Muscat by a small group of people demanding the release of more than 30 rights activists arrested in past days for demanding reforms.
Civil society groups in the Gulf states had called on Oman to immediately release the rights activists.
The Gulf Forum for Civil Societies, an organisation of liberal activists, said Omani authorities arrested 22 activists on Monday who were demanding the release of 10 others detained the previous week.
Oman was hit by a wave of protests last year demanding political reforms and riot police dispersed the demonstrations with force, killing several activists and arresting many others.