On March 14, 2021, Oman’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) blocked the social media audio chat platform Clubhouse on the grounds of not being licensed to operate. According to informed local sources, the Internal Security Service (ISS) is behind the decision.
Access Now, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, the Omani Center for Human Rights, the Omani Society for Human Rights, and the Muwatin Network, denounce this arbitrary measure, which is the latest development in a continuous pattern of repressive measures that the ISS has adopted in recent years.
The five organizations are calling on the Omani authorities to repeal the decision to ban Clubhouse, to stop these systematic policies of repression, and to uphold human rights and respect public freedoms, including freedom of expression and opinion, both online and offline.
The decision was immediately followed by public protest under the hashtag (#Oman_bans_club_house) on Twitter, where citizens in Oman, including civil society activists, expressed their condemnation of this arbitrary decision by the ISS, whose policies focus on silencing dissenting voices.
On June 10, 2020, the Sultan of Oman, Haitham bin Tariq, issued decree No. 64 of 2020 establishing a Center for Cyber Defense, which gives absolute control to the ISS over internet users inside the country, their devices, and the data they save on these devices.
We call on the government in Oman to immediately rescind the decree establishing the Center for Cyber Defense system in order to protect open online spaces in which citizens can exercise their legitimate right to freedom of expression on the internet. Internet governance and regulation should not be mandated to security agencies, but entrusted to competent administrative and civil bodies, in close cooperation with independent academics, technologists, and civil society groups.
Photo CC BY 2.0, Marco Verch