Oman court starts proceedings against activists

DUBAI, June 26 Tue Jun 26, 2012 6:24am EDT

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DUBAI, June 26 (Reuters) - An Omani court has begun hearing the cases of activists accused of defamation and illegal assembly during protests demanding political reforms, and of criticising the conduct of security agencies, a local newspaper said on Tuesday.

Oman, an ally of the United States and Britain located on a major oil shipping route, has detained more than 30 people in the last three weeks over protests that erupted following strikes at oil facilities.

Most state revenue comes from oil. The strikes were the biggest Oman has seen since protests last year against corruption and unemployment, triggered by "Arab Spring" uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Several opposition activists were arrested when they visited an oil facility where workers went on strike in late May, triggering protests which have themselves ended with more detentions.

The Oman newspaper said court proceedings started on Monday against 15 people, four of whom were accused of defamation and incitement to further protests and strikes.

Eleven others were charged with illegal assembly, it said.

Azzaman, another Omani newspaper, said the accused had spoken of "violations" in the manner they were dealt with while in detention, but did not elaborate. Neither the court nor the Justice Ministry could be reached for comment on the case.

The hearing was scheduled to resume on Tuesday.

Oman's public prosecutor warned this month that he would take action against anyone making defamatory statements on social media, after protests where some activists used slogans that derided the ruler, Sultan Qaboos. He also declined to discuss the court case when asked by Reuters.

The sultan - the longest-standing Arab head of state after the fall of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi - promised thousands of jobs and unemployment benefits in response to last year's unrest. Protesters say those measures are not being implemented and have periodically taken to the streets. (Writing by Joseph Logan; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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