Oman jails 12 for "illegal gathering"

MUSCAT Wed Aug 8, 2012 8:59am EDT

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MUSCAT (Reuters) - An Omani court sentenced 12 people on Wednesday to up to a year in jail for "illegal gathering", their lawyer said, in a further move against unrest inspired by last year's Arab Spring revolts.

Recent protests in Oman, which fronts the Gulf sea lane through which much of the world's oil trade is shipped, point to difficulties in implementing a strategy of defusing discontent by creating tens of thousands of public sector jobs.

On Monday, another court in Muscat sentenced eight people to a year in jail over Internet posts it called "incitement" against the government, a court official said. The verdicts in both cases can be appealed.

The 12 defendants, who included a television presenter and a lawyer, were also fined 200 Omani rial ($520) each, their lawyer Badr al-Bahri told Reuters.

"The 12, who have been convicted of illegal gathering, are now arranging to pay a bail of 1,000 rials ($2,600) each since they say they want to appeal against the sentencing," a court official told Reuters, declining to be identified.

In the case of those convicted of "incitement", the court official said the defendants had criticised the government for perceived inefficiency in creating jobs and a clampdown on protests that recently flared anew.

Ten other people were sentenced last month to up to 18 months in jail over comments directed against the longtime Omani ruler, Sultan Qaboos, on social media websites and during protests in late May that grew out of strikes in the oil sector - which accounts for most state revenue.

Sultan Qaboos - in power for 42 years and now the longest-serving Arab head of state following the fall of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi last year - promised thousands of jobs and unemployment benefits in response to last year's disturbances.

Perceived failures and delays in making good on such promises were rallying cries in the recent protests, which saw anger directed against the once-sacrosanct figure of the sultan.

Oman's public prosecutor pledged to prosecute such statements under its information technology law, which formed the basis of the latest rulings as well as the earlier verdicts. ($1 = 0.3850 Omani rials)

(Reporting by Saleh al-Shaibany; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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