DUBAI (Reuters) - An Omani writer and a poet were among four people convicted of defamation over comments against the country’s sultan and sentenced to jail sentences of up to one year, although they were freed pending bail and an appeal, their lawyer said.
Oman, a Western-allied, small oil exporter that flanks a major crude shipping route out of the Gulf, has detained more than 30 people in the past few weeks over protests that erupted after strikes at petroleum plants over pay and pension issues.
The walkouts were the biggest Oman has seen since a spate of protests last year against corruption and unemployment inspired by Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
An Omani activist told Reuters that author Hammoud Rashedi had been accused of holding up a sign with “certain sentences directed at Sultan Qaboos” during a peaceful demonstration last month, while poet Hamad al-Kharusi had published a poem referring to the veteran ruler on his Facebook page.
Oman’s public prosecutor warned last month that he would act against anyone making defamatory statements on social media after protests where some activists used slogans that derided state decisions related to joblessness and official corruption.
Rashedi was sentenced to six months in prison for defamation and Ali al-Muqbali, Mahmoud al-Rawahi and poet Hamad al-Kharusi to a year in jail each for violating information technology law as well, according to the state news agency ONA.
Lawyer Yaqoub al-Harithi said Rawahi had also been charged with “incitement for gatherings”.
“The four have been freed pending an appeal at a later date on the case of the defamation against the Sultan...,” Yaqoub al-Kharusi, another defense lawyer, told Reuters.
Court hearings for more activists arrested during recent protests are continuing, he added.
Rashedi and Kharusi were arrested in June in a police crackdown on dissent amid rising discontent.
Oman’s sultan - 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 unrest.
But disgruntled Omanis say those measures are not being implemented and have periodically taken to the streets.
Most state revenue comes from oil.
Reporting by Rania El Gamal and Saleh al-Shaibany; editing by Sami Aboudi and Mark Heinrich