Freedom of Religion and Belief
Here, to mark the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, the Omani Centre for Human Rights examines freedom of religion and belief in Oman.
Articles 18, 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights set out the meaning of freedom of religion and belief and explain the need to protect these rights.
The preservation and protection of freedom of religion and belief are designed to combat discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief.
Article 18 states:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
In Oman, the problem is not just the rejection by a large segment of society of atheists or those of other religions, but also the incitement against them by well-known religious figures, and in the absence of laws to protect freedom of religion and belief.
In numerous lectures and interviews the Grand Mufti of the Sultanate of Oman, Sheikh Ahmad al-Khalili, has launched sharp attacks on secularists, rationalists and atheists, and agitated against them, calling their activities “a sickness and hidden disease” and saying that they “want to spread delusion”.
Atheism is one of the main areas of belief for which adherents are subjected to opposition and harassment both society and the government.
In Omani law, Article 269 of the revised Penal Code stipulates:
The punishment shall be imprisonment for a term of not less than three years and not more than ten years for anyone who commits one of the following acts:
(a) blaspheming against or insulting the Divinity verbally or by means of writing, drawing or gestures or by any other means;
(b) insulting, perverting or desecrating the Holy Quran;
(c) insulting the Islamic religion or any of its rites, or reviling any of the divine religions;
(d) blaspheming against or insulting any of the prophets verbally or by means of writing, drawing or gestures or by any other means.
Article 277 of the new Penal Code also states:
The punishment for anyone who openly consumes food or drink or other substances subject to fasting in a public place during daytime in Ramadan shall be imprisonment for a term of not less than ten days and not more than three months.
Some religious figures in Oman incite people against secularists and atheists to the extent of calling for them to be beheaded!
In your opinion, would amending the law to protect freedom of religion and belief be an effective way of combating discrimination on grounds of religion and belief?