Chat app Clubhouse is no longer available in Oman. The government claims the ban is due to a lack of license, but activists believe it is censorship.
Speaking to news website WAF, the Omani telecoms regulator said the app was blocked for “lack of proper authorization.”
“Similar communication applications must obtain a permit from the authority,” the Omani Telecommunications Regulatory Authority said. An article on WAF says the Omani government “prohibits the use of several encrypted VOIP applications without an official license.” That’s the case in several other countries in the Gulf.
Activists believe the blocking of Clubhouse has nothing to do with licensing; it is the government blocking an app where citizens can freely discuss controversial political topics.
“The government of Oman takes the authoritarian government of China as a role model and bans … Clubhouse which has been used by Omanis as a space to express their opinions freely without government censorship,” said the Omani Association For Human Rights, in a statement to Reuters.
The Chinese government blocked access to Clubhouse in February.
Clubhouse is a San Francisco-based app launched in early 2020. It allows users to hold discussions via audio messages, which the company claims it does not record. An invite is required to join the app. It became increasingly popular after Elon Musk and Vlad Tenev, Robinhood’s CEO, held discussion on the app.
The nature of the app has made it popular in Arab countries, where governments monitor social media activity; people risk getting arrested for criticizing the government.
Hashtags about the government blocking Clubhouse were trending on social media platforms in Oman. Users shared screenshots of their Clubhouse app showing an “error message.”
“I hope that the suspension of the Clubhouse app in Oman is a result of technical issues and not a formal ban,” Omani writer Zakaria al-Muharrmi wrote on Twitter.
“Preventing people from speaking and listening to others does not protect societies, but rather increases tensions and pushes them into the abyss of chaos and confrontation.”