Viewing cable 05MUSCAT148

05MUSCAT1482005-01-26 13:13:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Muscat
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A 
¶1. (SBU)  Omani chat-rooms and dinner conversations have been 
dominated in recent weeks by widely held rumors that the 
security services have arrested a dozen Omani citizens in 
late-night raids spread across three separate regions.  While 
the government has not publicly acknowledged the arrests 
despite increasing media attention, speculation focuses on 
possible religious pretexts behind the security measures. 
Names of 13 alleged detainees (most believed to belong to the 
predominant Ibadhi sect), and pictures of doors damaged in 
the police raids, have been posted to local Internet 
websites.  A Paris-based Arab human rights NGO issued a 
statement January 23 condemning the "arbitrary arrests" in 
the Sultanate.  Many Omanis take the events as sign that the 
government is closely scrutinizing religious activities that 
exceed its tolerance.  End summary. 
Internet Spreads Consistent Stories 
¶2. (SBU) Since December, 2004, rumors have run rampant in 
Oman concerning the arrest and detention of roughly one dozen 
Omanis at the hands of special security services, reputedly 
in a series of late-night raids on their homes.  Local 
Internet chat-rooms (Al Sablah and Al Majara) have been abuzz 
for weeks with the reports, often posted by relatives or 
close friends of those alleged to have been captured in the 
security sweep.  Embassy employees have heard numerous (and 
credible) second-hand reports of the arrests in their home 
villages and from close personal contacts.  Broader Arab 
media, including the Al Jazeera, Al Arabia and Al Hurra news 
networks, have also reported on the arrests.  Agence 
France-Presse has also published a report of unsubstatiated 
"rumors" about the arrests. 
¶3. (SBU) Al Sablah and Al Majara have posted the names of 
thirteen individuals allegedly captured and detained by the 
security services, hailing primarily from three regions of 
Oman: Muscat, Dakhaliyah, and Sharqiyah.  The names provided 
are as follows: 
-- Mohammed al-Gharbi, assistant lecturer, Sultan Qaboos 
-- Dr. Ali al-Abri, university lecturer 
-- Dr. Jabir al-Sa'adi, lecturer, College of Shariah and Law 
-- Dr. Yusuf al-Sarhani, university lecturer 
-- Salih al-Rabkhi, Director of Mosque Affairs, Diwan of the 
Royal Court 
-- Zaher al-Alawi, Islamic preacher 
-- Ahmed Mohammed al-Harthy, teacher 
-- Said al-Harthy, former judge 
-- Mohammed al-Shuaili, religious supervisor at Sultan Qaboos 
-- Salim al-Sa'adi 
-- Said al-Saqri 
-- Khalifa al-Mahrouqi 
-- Sheikh al-Numani 
Sheikh al-Numani had appeared on earlier lists but was 
subsequently removed, presumably after having been released. 
While included on the list with the others, Ahmed Mohammed 
al-Harthy is widely reputed to have been arrested in 
connection with the shooting of a British citizen in 2004 
that was believed to have been of a personal rather than 
political nature.  There is also limited speculation that 
perhaps dozens of other Omanis have at least been questioned 
by authorities in connection with the arrests. 
Few Facts, Numerous Theories 
¶4. (SBU) In the absence of formal charges or public 
acknowledgment of the alleged arrests by the government, 
speculation runs rampant on what the detainees may have done 
to warrant this action.  The most prevalent theories lean 
toward the detainees having held religious views that went 
beyond the government's comfort level.  (Note: The last 
government crackdown of a similar scale took place in 1994, 
when dozens of government officials and other Omanis were 
arrested for alleged participation in a Muslim Brotherhood 
cell.  All were subsequently pardoned, with several of them 
returning to senior positions.  End note.)  Without a firm 
basis of proof, the majority of the alleged detainees are 
believed to be Ibadhi Muslims and relatively young; many of 
them occupy leadership positions that put them in close 
proximity to impressionable Omani youth. 
¶5. (SBU) While some Omanis fearfully speculate the detainees 
were plotting acts of terror, most presume that the detainees 
were somehow singled out for holding critical opinions about 
the government.  One of the more credible theories suggests 
that the detainees are Ibadhi conservatives unhappy with 
perceptions that the government is downplaying the primacy of 
Ibadhism relative to other schools of Islamic thought.  Apart 
from the alleged shooter Ahmed Mohammed al-Harthy, however, 
none of our contacts have imputed the other detainees with 
violent beliefs or natures.  Pictures of at least one door 
allegedly busted down during the police raids have been 
posted on the Internet, and the widely held beliefs that the 
raids were conducted in the middle of the night have been a 
particular lightning rod of criticism. 
French NGO Condemns Arbitrary Arrests 
¶6. (U) Paris-based NGO "Arab Commission for Human Rights" 
issued a statement January 23 following comments to the Al 
Jazeera network on the "arbitrary arrests" in Oman. 
According to its website, the ACHR was founded in 1998 by a 
group of 15 human rights advocates from several Arab states, 
not including Oman.  (Note: An allegedly banned Omani writer, 
Abdullah al-Riyami (reftel), posted the ACHR statement to a 
local Internet site and gave an interview to Al Hurra, 
leading to speculation that he was behind the NGO's action. 
End note.)  Our informal translation of the somewhat 
contradictory statement is as follows:  (begin text) 
The Arab Commission for Human Rights expresses its deep 
concern for the continuation of the series of arrests in the 
Sultanate of Oman which began 33 days ago and continued until 
the eve of Eid al-Adha. 
The campaign of arrests included a number of geographical 
regions, mainly Muscat, Nizwa, al-Qabil, Bahla, Manah, and 
al-Hamra.  Some of the arrested were renowned for their 
religious fanaticism, criticism of the internal situation, 
and verbal hostility to American policies. 
Most of the arrests were made between 1:00 and 3:00 a.m. when 
residences were stormed and doors broken, entering into 
bedrooms followed by careless searches.  As direct result, 
children were psychologically traumatized by the signs of 
violence against their father, or their elder brother. 
According to a lawyer close to the ACHR, arrested persons are 
not exceptionally more religious compared to the ordinary 
level observed in the country.  Further, there were no 
immediate threats nor involvement in armed violence or 
terrorism.  Nothing is known about the fate nor the 
whereabouts of the detainees.  They were allowed to contact 
their families only once on January 19, 2005.  They were not 
indicted and (there are) no signs of any trial nor a role of 
the judicial authority. 
The Arab Commission for Human Rights calls on the Omani 
authorities to stop all arbitrary arrests in the country, 
provide defense facilities for each defendant and to bring 
them to fair and public justice, and not to slip further into 
oppressive policing attitude for resolving political and 
social problems of the country. 
Paris, January 23, 2005.  (End text.) 
Best Guess 
¶7. (SBU) Our more dispassionate Omani interlocutors point out 
that the security services are not in the habit of randomly 
arresting citizens without some reason, even if the pretext 
does not always hold up to the highest legal standards.  The 
theory that the detainees were unhappy with government 
efforts to promote religious tolerance at the expense of 
Ibadhism's predominance strikes us as a distinct possibility, 
particularly given the fact that the government does indeed 
seek to avoid granting preference for any particular school 
of Islamic thought.  Nevertheless, based on past experiences, 
there is a general expectation that the detainees will be 
eventually released with some vague warning not to engage in 
objectionable behavior or to divulge their experiences in 
custody.  Whatever the actual basis for the alleged 
detentions, a clear message has been received by the Omani 
public that the government is wary of any religious activity 
that could possibly undermine the public order or lead to 
sectarian tensions.