Freedom of association and peaceful assembly

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Peaceful assembly, including peaceful protest, is one of the most important ways of expressing an opinion.  The right to assemble peacefully is protected in international human rights treaties and covenants.

Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”

Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) stipulates that States must recognise and guarantee the right of peaceful assembly:  “No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society.”

[ Meanwhile, Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) specifies the right of everyone to take part in cultural life, and says the “States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to respect the freedom indispensable [to all of humanity] for scientific research and creative activity”. ]

In Oman, however, even peaceful assembly is regarded as a crime, and anyone arrested for, or accused of exercising, his or her right to assemble peacefully faces a prison sentence of up to twelve months, or in some cases three years.

Article 121 of the revised Omani Penal Code explicitly states that a public gathering, whether peaceful or otherwise, constitutes a crime for which everyone taking part shall be punished.

Omani citizens face a major challenge in that they are unable to express their views freely and safely, especially if this involves protesting against some law or demanding any rights.

Recent peaceful gatherings, which have mostly been to do with unemployment, have seen numerous arrests and detentions without charge, although according to OCHR’s sources several of the organisers of such peaceful gatherings in Muscat and Salalah, and even some of the participants, have received threats from the security services that they should desist or else risk facing jail.

Oman has not yet signed either the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

If the people of a country are unable to express their rejection of government policies or protest against the general situation by going out into the streets and demonstrating peacefully,

… how can its government be described as

“the government of tolerance and peace”?