Has the human rights situation in Oman improved at all since Sultan Haitham bin Tariq came to power three months ago following the death of the previous sultan? So far we have already observed the following:
- The families of a number of dissidents and activists abroad have suffered intimidation and threats to ensure that they don’t criticise either the manner of the transfer of power or the new sultan himself.
- The women running the “Nasawiyat Omaniyat” (Omani Feminists) account on Twitter were summoned for questioning and forced to suspend activity on the account.
- A number of social media activists were called in and detained for questioning because of tweets or posts in which they called for political reform.
Despite the new sultan’s having previously been Minister for Heritage and Culture, the latest edition of the Muscat International Book Fair, in March this year, was again marred by censorship, with more than 50 titles seized and banned.
Haitham has promulgated a law on internal security that legitimises all the infringements and violations of human rights that used to take place previously, even where the security forces did not play a role directly. This law treats everything to do with the Internal Security forces as a matter of “national security”.
Although Oman recently ratified some international human rights conventions, this was unrelated to Sultan Haitham’s rule; the Omani government had already pledged in 2015 to sign them. The timing of the announcement of their ratification was related to Oman’s upcoming Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council, due in 2021. The Omani Penal Code, updated in 2018, is the main obstacle to the implementation of any human rights agreements because it contains provisions that blatantly violate the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, human rights activism, individual liberties and religious freedom.
So, having read all this, do you think the reign of the new sultan will bring about any significant change on human rights, or will the situation continue as it was under the previous sultan?