World News

Oman court sentences six for "slandering" ruler

DUBAI (Reuters) - An Omani court has sentenced six people to jail terms of 12 to 18 months over social media posts it called “slander” against the country’s ruler, a defense lawyer said on Tuesday.

The verdicts, which were issued on Monday, are being appealed by the defendants after they paid fines and bail of 1000 Omani rials ($2,600) each, the lawyer, Badr al-Bahri, said, adding specific charges included insulting the ruler.

An appeal hearing is set for September 10.

The rulings against postings on Twitter and Facebook extend a crackdown on dissent which has flared anew after Oman quelled its own version of Arab Spring protests last year.

Four other people were sentenced to up to a year in jail last week over comments directed against the ruler, Sultan Qaboos, during protests that rose alongside strikes in the oil sector - which accounts for most state revenue - in late May.

The unrest in the country - which sits astride the Gulf sea lane through which much of the world’s oil trade is shipped - points to difficulties implementing its strategy of quelling protests by creating tens of thousands of public sector jobs.

Perceived failures and delays in implementation, as well as the absence of a payment to the unemployed - who make up a quarter of all Omanis by official figures - were rallying cries in the recent protests, which saw anger directed against the once-sacrosanct figure of the sultan.

The country’s public prosecutor vowed to prosecute such statements under Oman’s information technology law, which formed the basis of Monday’s rulings as well as the earlier verdicts.

Oman’s official news agency on Monday published photographs and the full names of those newly convicted, a measure some activists said amounted to incitement against them, in an attempt to dissuade any further protests.

“Not even drug dealers and common criminals have been subjected to something like this,” said one activist, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They have the privilege of being identified by their initials and with their faces obscured.”

Reporting by Joseph Logan; Editing by Myra MacDonald