Human rights groups have urged authorities in Oman to release protesters and online activists arrested during a crackdown over the past two weeks.

On 11 June, 22 people were arrested protesting outside the Special Section of the Omani Police in Muscat, while nine online activists were arrested between 31 May and 9 June for criticising the Omani government.

The Public Prosecution released a statement on the Oman News Agency website on 13 June saying Omani citizens had been provoking sit-ins and strikes on online forums and social networking sites.

“A number of violators and perpetrators, who have been recently arrested will be interrogated and referred to the judicial departments as per the legal procedures in force in this regard,” said the statement.

Non-governmental organisations including Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders have criticised the arrests, saying it violates the activists’ rights to freedom of speech.

“Omani activists are speaking out about broken promises for government reform,” says Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director for Human Rights Watch. “Instead of listening, Omani authorities are arresting and prosecuting them to silence them.”

Some of the online activists arrested had reportedly criticised the Muscat government’s failure to carry out reforms promised by the country’s leader Sultan Qaboos during unrest in 2011.

“Such writings are against values and morals of the Omani society, principles of the freedom of expression, as well as objectives of the constructive criticism,” says the Omani Public Prosecution statement.

Oman has avoided the widespread uprisings seen in other Middle East countries during the Arab spring protests in 2011, with the government quick to crackdown on any signs of civil unrest.

The country has also been hit by strikes over recent weeks as 400 people working at state-owned Petroleum Development Oman’s (PDO) operations demanded better retirement and health benefits.