Omanis jailed for slandering ruler on hunger strike-lawyer
DUBAI Feb 18 (Reuters) - Twenty-one Omanis jailed for slandering the country's ruler have gone on hunger strike in protest against what they say is their wrongful imprisonment, a lawyer said on Monday.
The prisoners, jailed for terms of up to 18 months last year for criticising Sultan Qaboos on social media websites, stopped eating on Friday and have been taken to hospital, the lawyer, Yakoub Al Harthy, told Reuters.
"My information is that they are still in hospitals for treatment because of their hunger strike. They demand the high court overrule the prison sentences because they claim they are not guilty as charged," he said.
The comments against Sultan Qaboos - in power for 42 years and now the longest-ruling Arab head of state - were made during protests in late May that grew out of strikes in the oil sector, which accounts for most state revenue.
The rulings were part of a crackdown on dissenters after Oman quelled its own version of Arab Spring protests last year.
Oman - which sits astride the Gulf sea lane through which much of the world's oil trade is shipped - tried to placate protesters by creating tens of thousands of public sector jobs.
But perceived failures and delays in implementation of the promises kept protests simmering and some popular anger was directed against the once-sacrosanct figure of the sultan.
Oman's public prosecutor pledged to prosecute anyone who criticised the leader under Oman's information technology law.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), set up by the government in 2008, said it had met the jailed protesters, according to the state-run daily newspaper, Oman Observer.
The commission "requests all those on hunger strike to stop the strike. It confirms that no one should interfere with the proceedings of justice," the newspaper quoted the commission as saying.
Minister of Finance Darwish Al Balushi has said the government created 50,000 jobs for Omanis through state spending in 2012 and 56,000 more would be created this year.
Earlier this month, the government increased minimum wages to 325 rials ($844) from 200 rials a month in a move to discourage future protests. (Reporting by Saleh al-Shaibany, Editing by William Maclean and Andrew Heavens)
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