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Oman: Random Internet Censorship

omantel Unlike some neighbouring countries, the internet in Oman is rarely censored by the government to block websites that criticize the authorities.

There are blogs and forums that explicitly publish leaked government documents and shame high government officials, yet the government in most cases uses legal methods to prosecute such authors if they are residents in the country by relying on the criminal law legislation and the controversial Omani telecommunication law. Though rarely ever tested, Oman does guarantee the right for freedom of expression after all. Websites such as YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter were never blocked in Oman.

In Oman, we have a different problem with censorship. The issue of censorship is taken care of by a public company called Omantel that occasionally, due to human or machine errors – we don't know – blocks out random websites. Though initially it sounds like a silly problem, due to the blackbox nature of the censorship department, once a website is blocked, it is a nightmare to get it unblocked.

Two months ago, I discovered that a blog I keep on IT law in Oman got blocked while I was abroad. It took me a whole month to get it unblocked where I had to make an official complaint to the Telecommunication Regulation Authority to have my website unblocked.

While the blocking of my website might have only caused me to lose a whole month of traffic and have a whole month of hosting fees wasted, having a number of services by Google such as Gmail, Blogger, and Scholar blocked for more than a day by mistake has a serious impact on the lives of people.

Currently, it seems that does not seem to be any method to hold Omantel accountable to its various censorship mishaps, other than complaining to the Oman's Telecom Regulation Authority, which will order Oman to unblock a website, but is very unlikely to issue any other sanctions. The future of the situation and control of the censorship department is unknown as the second fixed line internet service provider starts its operations. Hopefully something will change.

Meanwhile, it is worth noting that Global Voice's own Bangla portal is now blocked in Oman.. probably by mistake. I already wrote to Omantel to have it unblocked, but I have no idea how long it will take, if ever, to have it unblocked.

  • Ali

    Omantel uses 3rd party software developed in the states for their censorship technology, such as safesurf and whatnot.

    Using filters such as these are prone to 2 problems: over-blocking and underblocking.

    I would probably suggest to permanently use a VPN solution to get around the censorship as it will also mask whatever traffic is going through your pipes. they cost money, but damn worth it I say.

  • taiseer

    Apparently you did not read ONI’s research on Internet censorship on Oman http://opennet.net/research/profiles/oman and the Middle East regional overview http://opennet.net/research/regions/mena

    • http://jilliancyork.com Jillian C. York

      Heh, I was just going to point that out (disclosure: I work for ONI). But, Riyadh is actually pretty right on this one – there’s almost no POLITICAL filtering in Oman – most of it is geared toward social categories (LGBT, sex education, etc) and religious criticism.

  • Eric
  • Pingback: My Quotes on the National | Blue Chi's

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