MUSCAT (Reuters) - An Omani court sentenced six people to jail terms ranging from a year to 18 months for slander over internet posts against the government that it called “abusive and provocative”, an opposition activist present at the hearing said on Monday.
The verdict, issued on Sunday, was a further move by Oman to deter unrest inspired by Arab Spring revolts last year.
Protests this year in Oman, which fronts the Gulf sea lane through which much of the world’s oil trade is shipped, have highlighted difficulties in implementing a strategy of defusing discontent by creating tens of thousands of public sector jobs.
The six men were also accused of “violating information technology regulations” and were fined 1,000 rial ($2,600) each, the state news agency ONA reported.
Rulings in other, similar cases are expected on September 16, the agency added.
Activist Ahmed bin Said, who was present at the hearing, said the defendants had criticized the government for not making public the names of officials who are under corruption investigation.
Around 12 Omanis were sentenced to up to a year in jail last month for illegal gathering and some 18 people were handed similar prison terms over Internet posts deemed as “incitement” against the government and comments directed against Omani ruler Sultan Qaboos.
The comments against Sultan Qaboos - in power for 42 years and now the longest-serving 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 sultan 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.
Reporting by Saleh Al-Shaibany; Editing by Rania El Gamal and Mark Heinrich