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We mustn’t gloss over Oman’s poor human-rights record

In his opinion piece “Where benign absolutism works” (Ideas, March 19), Stephen Kinzer claimed that while Americans have chosen democracy, Omanis have opted for an absolute monarchy. But what sort of choice do Omanis have when, as Kinzer himself admits, “dissent is unwelcome”?

And dissent is certainly unwelcome. Days before this article’s publication, an Omani appeals court delayed a decision on the fate of writer and cinema critic Abdullah Habib, who faces a three-year sentence for defending the rights of his fellow Omani citizens on Facebook, according to the Gulf Center for Human Rights. Omani authorities detained Habib for three weeks last year without access to his family or a lawyer.

Habib’s is one of many cases I’ve followed as a journalist covering pervasive censorship in Oman, which has only strengthened in recent years with repeated arrests of journalists, human-rights defenders, and dissidents. Yes, Oman has developed a well-deserved reputation for problem-solving in a problem-ridden region. But its human-rights record is a blot on that reputation that we must not gloss over.

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Jason Stern
New York

The writer is a freelance journalist who worked for four years as a Middle East researcher for the Committee to Protect Journalists.