Viewing cable 05MUSCAT1132

05MUSCAT11322005-07-19 01:05:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Muscat
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MUSCAT 001132 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/18/2015 
REF: A. MUSCAT 1109 
     ¶B. MUSCAT 716 
     ¶C. 04 MUSCAT 2180 
Classified By: Ambassador Richard L. Baltimore III. 
Reason: 1.4 (d). 
¶1. (SBU) The Omani authorities have incarcerated an outspoken 
former parliamentarian and questioned a banned 
writer/activist for making critical remarks about senior 
government officials.  On the heels of pardoning 31 Ibadhis 
who were convicted of belonging to an illegal organization, 
the authorities remain seized with ascertaining the 
appropriate balance between public order, dissent and new 
means of disseminating information.  End Summary. 
Al-Ma'wali's Internet and Phone Monitored 
¶2. (U) Taybah Mohammed Rashid al-Ma'wali is one of Oman's 
first elected female Shura Council deputies and a Nobel Peace 
Prize nominee who advocates equality and justice.  On July 
13, a Muscat sentenced her to one and a half years in jail 
for insulting a public official and using a mobile phone to 
send allegedly slanderous and libelous text messages (ref A). 
¶3. (SBU) Al-Ma'wali's troubles started in late December 2004 
when she spoke out against government officials involved in 
the arrest of thirty-one Ibadhis, then charged with 
membership in a secret organization that sought to overthrow 
the government (ref B).  In the course of that investigation, 
the Internal Security Services (ISS) determined that 
al-Ma'wali disrupted the public order when she disseminated 
allegedly false information about the ongoing investigation. 
The Public Prosecution gave the ISS permission (renewed 
monthly) to monitor all of al-Ma'wali's communications, 
including her mobile phone, home phone, and internet usage. 
The ISS then shared the potentially incriminating monitoring 
information with the Attorney General, as required by law. 
¶4. (SBU) According to official court records, ISS monitored 
al-Ma'wali's communications for five months.  In late May 
2004, ISS questioned al-Ma'wali about her activities and/or 
knowledge of the arrested Ibadhis.  She was also asked about 
fellow activist and outspoken government critic Abdullah 
al-Riyami.  Interrogation records indicate that the ISS had 
been keeping a close eye on the pair, even aware that they 
were standing next to each other during a protest march 
following the sentencing of the Ibadhis on May 2 (ref B). ISS 
asked al-Ma'wali to sign a confession that she made negative 
statements about senior officials.  Al-Ma'wali told us that 
the ISS threatened her with further legal action after she 
refused and that her residence and movements have been under 
constant surveillance at least since that time. 
¶5. (SBU) In late June, the Muscat Primary Court summoned 
al-Ma'wali after the Public Prosecutor decided to charge her 
with violating Article 61 of the Telecommunications 
Regulation Act, and Article 173 of the Penal Law.  Article 
173 prohibits insulting a public official and carries a 
sentence of 10 days to 6 months in prison.  The office of 
Public Prosecution argued that she insulted the Minister of 
the Royal Office, the Minister of Information, and the 
Inspector General of the Royal Oman Police in Internet 
communications.  Al-Ma'wali was also charged with violating 
Article 61 of the Telecommunications Regulation Act for 
sending slanderous and libelous text messages on a mobile 
phone, which carries a sentence of one year in jail and a RO 
1000 ($2600) fine for each charge. 
Fair Trial? 
¶6. (SBU) Al-Ma'wali's summons was followed by a three-day 
trial and sentencing on July 13.  Al-Ma'wali asserted that 
her trial was a farce, alleging that her attorney was only 
allowed 30 minutes in the judge's chamber to review the case 
prior to the trial's start, that the prosecutor spent a 
considerable portion of the trial whispering with the judge, 
and that her own attorney was not afforded opportunity for 
rebuttal.  She also asserted that the judge is the uncle of 
the Minister of Information, one of the primary complainants 
in the case. 
¶7. (SBU) After three brief court hearings that ended on July 
13, al-Ma'wali was found guilty and sentenced to one and a 
half years in prison.  Due to the fact that the Primary Court 
found the Public Prosecutor's evidence admissible, which 
included signed confessions, mobile phone text messages, 
internet postings, and phone calls, it will probably be 
difficult for her to win on appeal.  Nevertheless, the Sultan 
always has the option of granting a pardon. 
Second Activist Detained 
¶8. (SBU) The public is also following the recent detention of 
well-known writer and human rights activist Abdullah 
al-Riyami, who has reportedly been barred from publishing 
anything in Oman since July 2004 (ref C).  According to his 
brother and numerous Internet sites, the police detained 
Al-Riyami on July 12.  A frequent voice of dissent both in 
the regional media and on the Omani internet message board 
"al-Sablah," al-Riyami has been closely monitored since his 
controversial appearance on Iran's Arabic-language satellite 
channel Al-Alam in July 2004, when he questioned the Omani 
government's willingness to begin genuine democratic reform 
and referred to Majlis al-Shura elections as "a mere 
superficial exercise" to improve the government's image 
abroad.  Speculation as to why the police summoned him points 
to his criticism of the government and possible participation 
at a recent human rights forum in Morocco. 
¶9. (U) In a press release on July 15, Amnesty International 
(AI) condemned both arrests, saying al-Ma'wali and al-Riyami 
"may both be prisoners of conscience, held solely for the 
non-violent expression of their beliefs."  AI called on 
individuals to appeal to the Sultan for their immediate 
release, if indeed they are prisoners of conscience.  AI is 
also asking for details of any recognizable criminal charges 
against al-Riyami and al-Ma'wali together with the details of 
legal proceedings against them, including the dates of trial 
hearings and the name of the court before which they have 
appeared.  According to "al-Sablah," 33 international 
organizations, including the Paris-based Arab Commission on 
Human Rights and Reporters Without Borders, have also 
condemned al-Riyami's arrest.  There have been reports of a 
demonstration at the Omani Embassy in Rabat following 
al-Riyami's detention, and internet activists are mulling a 
possible demonstration July 19 at a Muscat mosque. 
¶10. (C) The Omani government's poor public explanation for 
making the first round of arrests have led to a cycle of 
arrests-protests-more arrests.  The Sultan's June 9 pardon of 
those convicted of belonging to an illegal organization has 
not completely broken the chain. The authorities here, as 
elsewhere, remain seized with ascertaining the appropriate 
balance between public order, dissent and new means of 
disseminating information.