MUSCAT, 3 May 2005 — Oman’s state security court yesterday handed jail terms of between one and 20 years to 31 Omanis accused of plotting to overthrow the government and membership of a banned organization.
Judge Sayyid Hilal bin Hamad bin Hilal Al Busaidi, heading the five-member bench, read out the judgment at about 10.15 a.m., saying the convicts could appeal for mercy to Sultan Qaboos within 30 days.
The 31 accused, all educated, were present in the court and listened to the judgment with calm. Some embraced each other. They were whisked away by the security personnel soon after the judgment.
Defense lawyers had argued that their clients were innocent of the charges against them and had merely sought to promote the teachings of the majority Ibadi sect.
Judge Busaidi said the defendants could not appeal the verdict but could ask for a pardon from Sultan Qaboos within 30 days.
Thirty were convicted of plotting to “overthrow the regime by force of arms and replace it by an imamate, by setting up a banned underground organization.”
The accused, who were all in court, were also convicted of conducting military training, arming members with weapons obtained illegally and holding meetings aimed at recruiting new members.
Six defendants, accused of being leaders of the group, were sentenced to 20 years in jail.
Twelve were sentenced to 10 years, another 12 to seven years while the 31st, Al-Shuwaili, who was acquitted of seeking to overthrow the regime, received a one-year jail sentence for holding weapons without a license.
Mohsin bin Ahmed Al-Haddad, who was defending Al Shuwaili, told Arab News he was happy that his client was the only one to be acquitted of major charges.
Asked if he was satisfied with the verdict, Juma Al-Hashmi, another defense lawyer said: “The judgment is final and we have to accept it.”
Sultan Qaboos must ratify the sentences. The Omani ruler commuted death sentences handed down to defendants in a trial of a Islamist organization in 1994.
The latest trial was the first of its kind to be open to a selected public and relatives, reporters and members of Oman’s appointed state council and elected consultative council were at the hearing, which lasted just 20 minutes.
Defense lawyers said their clients’ possession of weapons was in keeping with Omani norms and that the worst they could be accused of was holding firearms without a permit.
The defendants, who were arrested in January, had pleaded not guilty to the charge of plotting to overthrow the regime, although some of them expressed “regret” and asked Sultan Qaboos to pardon them.
Unconfirmed reports at the time of the arrests said the group was suspected of planning attacks on the Muscat festival, a trade and cultural event spanning part of January and February, as well as commercial centers and oil installations.
Police last week showed reporters some of the weapons seized with the accused, including around 40 Kalashnikov assault rifles, nine pistols and a large quantity of ammunition.
But the authorities played down any threat of attacks of the sort that have shaken neighboring countries including Kuwait and Yemen.
Up to 200 supporters of the group staged a peaceful march in Muscat Sunday to demand their acquittal. Demonstrations are banned in Oman.