Oman activists charged for 'illegal gatherings'

MUSCAT - Fourteen Omani rights activists arrested in early June for demanding political reforms in the country have been charged with defamation and illegal gatherings, their lawyer said on Monday.
The activists, including bloggers, writers and lawyers, were charged with participating in "illegal gatherings and blocking roads," said Yacoub al-Harithi after the court hearing in the capital Muscat.
Three of the activists were also charged with "defaming sultan" Qaboos, the country's ruler, a much more serious charge which according to Harithi falls within the category of "state security crimes."
He said that a total of 36 Omanis were arrested for anti-government actions since the beginning of June. Fourteen of them appeared in court on Monday, 12 of the accused were set free, and 10 others remain in detention without charge.
The 14 defendants will appear in court Wednesday for a "final defence," a decision that triggered anger among the lawyers because of the "very short time period granted for the lawyers to study the case," said Harithi.
Earlier in June, Paris-based watchdog Reporters without Borders urged Oman to release the activists.
"We deplore the illegal and random nature of these arrests. We ask the authorities to release the bloggers immediately and unconditionally and to call a halt to arbitrary arrests," RSF said.
Human Rights Watch also urged Omani authorities to "immediately" release the activists.
"Instead of listening, Omani authorities are arresting and prosecuting them to silence them," said HRW's Deputy Middle East director Joe Stork.
Oman was hit by a wave of protests last year demanding political reforms and riot police dispersed the demonstrations with force, killing several activists and arresting many others.