Can you can you criticise the person at the very top in politics without being arrested?
Can you form a political party or engage in political activity without any legal repercussions?
Can you declare yourself an atheist without being accused of “insulting the Divinity” or spreading atheism?
Can you be open about your sexual orientation without being accused of undermining social and religious norms?
Can you be open about not fasting in Ramadan?
Could you establish an independent opposition newspaper?
If the answer to any or all or these questions is ‘no’, then you are living in a society that is not free.
In free societies, in the view of academics and experts:
- The government enjoys limited powers.
- The political authorities do not have the right to prevent activities of any kind or on any pretext of security.
- The ruler does not have the right to use force or the law to take revenge on his enemies.
- Governmental power is restricted by law, and all are equal before the law.
- An accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
- Society is tolerant of individuals or groups with religious, sectarian, cultural and ideological affiliations or sexual orientations that differ from the mainstream.
- Technology is available to all, and programmes or applications are not banned in the economic interests of a particular group or in order to strengthen the government’s grip on security.
- The ruler has absolute power and controls all three branches of government (legislature, executive and judiciary).
- People with views opposing the government are liable to enforced disappearance.
- Prisoners of conscience are “guilty” until found innocent.
- Forming political parties is a crime in Oman.
- The government has issued a number of laws that criminalise sexual relations outside marriage and criminalise homosexuality.
- The government bans certain programmes and apps, such as Skype, Facebook and WhatsApp chats, while others are only available without all of their features.
So how can Omani society be free?