Oman sets protesters' trial for June 1

Reuters News
|
Posted: May 28, 2011 8:18 AM
Oman sets protesters' trial for June 1

MUSCAT (Reuters) - The trial of 27 protesters accused of rioting during violent demonstrations in Oman will start next Wednesday, a court official said.

Protests in Oman began in February, inspired by pro-democracy revolts that toppled the rulers of Egypt and Tunisia before spreading to Gulf Arab region.

In Oman, where rallies have been on a relatively small scale, demands have focused more on higher wages, jobs and an end to graft.

"The lawyers of the accused asked for the trial to be postponed as not enough witnesses from the defense turned up at the trial on May 23 and the court agreed to a new a date of June 1," a court official, who did not want to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the press, told Reuters on Saturday.

The 27 were arrested in the industrial city of Sohar in March and April on charges of rioting and vandalism, including torching of a supermarket, a police station and two government buildings and damaging cars.

Sohar is about 250 km (155 miles) from the capital Muscat.

Rights group Amnesty International has urged Oman to charge or release the protesters.

"The authorities in Oman must immediately provide details on the whereabouts of all protesters being held and either charge them with a recognizable criminal offence or release them," said Malcolm Smart, a regional director at Amnesty.

"If they are being detained solely for participating in a peaceful public protest they should be released immediately and unconditionally," Smart said in a statement earlier this month.

Gulf Arab oil producers, keen to prevent popular uprisings from taking hold, launched a $20 billion aid package for Bahrain and Oman. Sultan Qaboos bin Said, a U.S. ally who has ruled Oman for 40 years, promised a $2.6 billion spending package in April.