Oman Pardons Activists, Analyst Criticizes UAE
Omani Sultan Qaboos Bin Saeed has pardoned all activists who were imprisoned for insulting the Sultan and violating the country’s cyber laws. The state news agency said, “His Majesty Sultan Qaboos has issued a royal pardon for those convicted of defamation, information technology crimes and unauthorized rallies,” and while the number of pardoned Omanis was not specified, at least 50 were jailed last year. Many of those who were affected by the pardon seemed delighted with the news. Yaqoub Al Harthi, a lawyer for a group of activists, said, “This is the best news,” and convicted activist Khalfan Al Badwawi said, “I am very happy with His Majesty’s decision to pardon all activists.” The pardon is another move by the government to ease public discontent. Recently, the Sultan announced a plan to limit the number of foreign workers and to increase the minimum wage for citizens.
Meanwhile, Freedom House Senior Research Assistant Bret Nelson writes that as “UAE authorities escalate their repression of civil society, the cracks in the country’s veneer of relative tolerance are becoming more apparent.” The Emirati government has claimed that recent crackdowns and mass arrests have been in response to foreign groups who are ”intent on violently overthrowing the regime,” however, Nelson argues that the debate about whether these groups are domestic or foreign “distracts from more pressing concerns about the continued crackdown on civil society in general.” He adds that “when U.S. envoys ignore human rights abuses in these countries, or worse yet, explain them away… the United States makes itself complicit in the repression.” Nelson asserts, “If the UAE government wants to convince citizens that its policies are better for the country’s future than the program of the opposition, it ought to engage in public debate and civil discourse with the Islamists or any other reformist group, creating an arena for free expression in which all sides can make their case without fear of deportation, imprisonment, or disappearance.”