(Beirut) – Omani authorities have barred the family of Mohammed al-Fazari, a human rights defender and blogger, from traveling outside the country, Human Rights Watch said today.

   Imposing an arbitrary travel ban against an activist’s family suggests an intent to intimidate activists and to silence dissent   

On January 30, 2017, the Omani authorities stopped al-Fazari’s wife, his 3-year-old daughter, and his 1-year-old son at the Oman-United Arab Emirates border and confiscated their passports, a source close to the case told Human Rights Watch. The authorities told al-Fazari’s family that they would be required to report to the Omani Police’s Special Division in the capital, Muscat, before they would be allowed to travel.

“Imposing an arbitrary travel ban against an activist’s family suggests an intent to intimidate activists and to silence dissent,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Oman should stop targeting activists for their peaceful activism, but instead it appears to be extending the harassment to their families.”

Human Rights Watch has documented a pattern of harassment against al-Fazari, the founder and editor-in-chief of Mowatin magazine, a publication that is critical of the country’s leader, Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said. Authorities had previously arrested al-Fazari during a June 2012 round-up of bloggers and activists, holding him in solitary confinement and trying him on charges of “gathering with the intent of rioting” and “insulting the Sultan.” He was freed in March 2013 following a royal pardon.

Authorities arrested al-Fazari again on August 30, 2014, held him incommunicado for six days, and then released him without charges. On December 22, 2014, authorities stopped a-Farazi at the Muscat airport and confiscated his passport and identity card.

On July 17, 2015, al-Fazari left the country, despite a travel ban that the Omani authorities had imposed on him, and sought asylum in the United Kingdom. On July 22, 2015, policearrested his brother, Mahmoud Al-Fazari, detained him for three weeks, and then released him without charge.

The Arab Charter on Human Rights, which Oman has ratified, guarantees the right to freedom of movement. Article 27 of the charter states that, “no citizen shall be arbitrarily or unlawfully prevented from leaving any Arab country, including his own.” Given that the travel ban against al-Fazari’s family appears to have stemmed from al-Fazari’s peaceful activism, the travel ban violates their right to free movement, and Omani authorities should lift it immediately, Human Rights Watch said.

Since the 2011 popular uprisings in Oman and the Arab region, Human Rights Watch hasdocumented a pattern in which Omani security forces harass and prosecute activists and critics on vague charges such as “insulting the Sultan” and “undermining the prestige of the state.” Authorities restrict online criticism and other digital content using article 61 of the 2002 Telecommunications Act, which penalizes “any person who sends, by means of telecommunications system, a message that violates public order or public morals.”