Omani Poet, Bloggers Detained; Charges Likely

Omani judicial authorities said Wednesday that they plan to file charges against a poet and bloggers arrested last month. The writers were apparently arrested for demanding political reforms in the country, and for crossing the red line of “disrespect for senior officials, including Sultan Qaboos.”

The AFP reported that those detained include: “bloggers Nabhan Al Hinshi and Hassan Al Raqishi, the writer Humood Al Rashdi, the poet Hamad Al Kharousi and two poets and activists, Ali Al Saedi and Ali Al Hajji.”

No details were given on possible charges. But a prepared release, from the Oman News Agency on June 13, said:

“It has been noticed that there are growing participations and negative writings on discussion forums, social networking websites and mobile applications. These writings include libels, spreading rumors, provoking sit-ins and strikes.  Such writings are against values and morals of the Omani society, principles of the freedom of expression, as well as objectives of the constructive criticism. Such practice prejudices the national security and public interests.  It is also a violation of the laws in force, such as the Omani Punitive Law, the Telecommunications Regulatory Law, the Cybercrimes Combatting Law and other respective laws.  A number of violators and perpetrators, who have been recently arrested, will be interrogated and referred to the judicial departments as per the legal procedures in force in this regard.”

According to Al-Monitor, the General Prosecution had previously issued a statement warning against disrespectful writings or speech, and the “increasing frequency of this type of writing under the pretext of freedom of expression.” The June 13 release also “calls upon all citizens on the importance of following the legal methods and means for the expression of opinion in line with the legal concept for the freedom of expression”.

In a similar detention, Omani blogger Muawiya Alrawahi was held last February over criticism of Oman’s rulers; he was released after ten days.

Report on freedom of expression:

If you haven’t read it, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information has put together a narrative on “freedom of expression in fifteen countries, including those where revolutions took place (Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Syria, Yemen), or countries underway (Algeria, Jordan, United Arab Emirates,
Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, Kuwait), or countries that represent an obstacle to democracy and thus to freedom of expression, namely Saudi Arabia.” Read the report.

Back to Oman:

In 2009, Beirut39 chronicler Sousan Hammad asked Omani writer Hussein al-Abri (and Beirut39 laureate) about the absence of Omani novelists in the Arabic literature scene. He said:

Poetry was the dominating field of literature until not long ago, and then prose was introduced during the early 90s in the form of short stories. As of now, we are facing the renaissance of fiction/ novel writing. There exists a major shift by story writers and poets towards writing novels. The signs are clear and the product is near. One now must wait with legs crossed.

Literary self-censorship in Oman

The blog post “Q & A with Ammar al Mamari, Omani blogger and law student” offers another reason for why the Omani novel hasn’t yet fully developed: “This systemic intolerance of even the mildest criticism has had a negative impact on Oman’s literary scene.”

Perhaps poetry also wins because it’s a denser, potentially shorter form. The Poetry Translation Centre has brought several of Abdullah al Ryami’s poems into English. Al-Ryami has also been arrested a number of times (he spoke with The Guardian in 2006 about the difficulties of writing in Oman); his work appears in the recent collection Gathering the Tide. His “Speed” was translated by the Poetry Translation Centre Workshop. It begins:

I take things lightly
that perhaps are heavy.
For example, I know I’m the gap between two sidewalks,
yet I cross it as fast as I can — why?
And because I take risks with my voice,
I trip on air.
And the first bead of sweat the trickles down my forehead
drowns me.