Annual Report On the Human Rights Situation in Oman 2020

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Welcome to the 2020 Annual Report from the Omani Centre for Human Rights.  What distinguishes it from the OCHR’s seven previous reports is the death in January 2020 of the former Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said, and the transfer of power to his cousin, the present Sultan, Haitham bin Tariq. Despite the power transfer and change of Sultan, and many people’s expectation that Oman would see some tangible change in the area of human rights and likewise political reforms to strengthen democracy, the situation – in terms both of human rights and of democracy – has continued as before.  And this despite the present Sultan’s promises, in his first speech after the mourning period, on 23 February 2020,[1] of a new era in which there would be freedom of expression and women’s rights.

The steady succession of summonses, arrests and detentions did not stop even after the death of Sultan Qaboos. The Muscat International Book Fair also saw the banning and withdrawal of a number of books. Feminist activists were called in for questioning and forced to close down the @nasawiyaom (Oman Feminists) account on Twitter.

This Annual Report contains a timeline of some of the most significant human rights violations in Oman in 2020; a list of reports published by the OCHR during the year on key human rights issues in relation to the situation in Oman; a series of publications for the Women’s Rights and Feminism Project; and details of the Centre’s contribution to the UN Human Rights Council’s Third Universal Periodic Review of Oman, and other articles.

Timeline of violations

12 January:

Following the death of the former Sultan, Qaboos bin Said, the OCHR received several reports of the Internal Security Service exerting pressure and intimidation against activists inside the country as well as family members of activists living abroad. Khalfan al-Badwawi, an Omani activist who has sought asylum in Britain, confirmed that his family had received threats.

7 February:

The OCHR condemned sexual harassment and domestic violence suffered by housemaids in Oman, after receiving several complaints on the subject. The Centre continues to receive complaints as harassment and violence continue. Victims have told us that despite their submitting formal complaints to the relevant authorities no legal measures have been taken against the aggressors.

11 February:

The OCHR condemned the security services’ harassment of the administrators of the Oman Feminists Twitter account, which eventually forced them to close it, and expressed its concern for the admin team’s safety. The online account was closed because of the topics it discussed, relating to demands for changes to the laws that obstruct women’s rights in Oman.

25 February:

Arrest of Omani broadcaster Adel al-Kasbi and former Shura (Consultative) Council member Salem al-Awfi because of tweets in which they criticised the wealth of an Omani official. Al-Kasbi was released on bail on 26 February, while al-Awfi remained in detention for several more weeks (see 10 June).

28 February:

Withdrawal and banning of more than 50 titles from the Muscat International Book Fair. See https://ochroman.org/eng/2020/03/bookfair2020/

8 March:

Promulgation of the Internal Security Service Law, which gave the ISS expanded powers of arrest and detention. The Law represents explicit acknowledgement by the government, for the first time, of the existence of the ISS, its unethical practices and its violations of human rights.

26 March:

Condemnation of the Musandam prisoners being denied the right, since 15 March, to phone their families.[2]

2 June:

Indefinite postponement of the trial of writer Musallam al-Mashani because of the coronavirus pandemic. Al-Mashani was arrested on 14 November 2019 and held for two weeks because of his new and as yet unpublished book about a gathering of the Hakli tribal confederation in Dhofar. The writer has not been re-arrested, but his case continues in the Court of First Instance.

3 June:

Former prisoner of conscience Awad al-Sawafi summoned for questioning by the Public Prosecution. It is believed that the reason for his summons was a tweet in which al-Sawafi criticised the Public Prosecution. Al-Sawafi was detained and brought to trial a week later, on 9 June, on a charge of using information technology to publish material prejudicial to public order. He was released the same day on bail of OR100 ($260). On 16 June al-Sawafi was sentenced to a one-year suspended prison term.

6 June:

Employees at the Saud Bahwan Group in Sohar gathered in protest over a 50% cut in their salaries. The protests in Sohar started on 2 June. News and other reports confirmed the dismissal of drivers and accountants.

9 June:

Trial of Awad al-Sawafi: see 3 June.

10 June:

Former Shura Council member Salem al-Awfi and broadcaster Adel al-Kasbi sentenced to jail on a charge of using information technology in a manner prejudicial to public order, for tweets in which they criticised an official. They were released upon payment of bail.

10 June:

Promulgation of the Cyber Defence Centre Law, which gives the Internal Security Service (Mabaheth) control over online space on the internet and allows the intelligence service access to activists’ devices, a move that poses a threat to their freedom and safety.

14 June:

University graduates rallied outside the Ministry of the Royal Court Office and the Ministry of Education over the education ministry’s refusal to appoint graduates to teaching posts if their diplomas were from non-Omani universities. Both ministries refused to receive the protesters or talk to them.

16 June:

Sentencing of Awad al-Sawafi (see 3 June).

16 June:

Gathering of Omani citizens outside the Royal Office to protest over successive waves of dismissals of workers at Consolidation Contractors Company since 2018. The OCHR has information that the Ministry of Manpower and the National Employment Centre knew about the problem and did nothing to prevent it.

6 July:

Omani citizens rallied outside Hamdan Trading Company in Muscat in protest at its arbitrarily dismissing them from their jobs.

17 July:

Online activist Ghazi al-Awlaki was summoned for questioning and arrested over material he posted on Facebook; he was released on 7 September.

23 July:

An Omani student was thrown out of her hall of residence at Sultan Qaboos university after she criticised the former head of the university. The student had been banned from studying back in January and dismissed as chair of the university’s debating society.

6 September:

Drivers and owners of school buses gathered outside the Ministry of Education to demand their financial rights.

20 September:

Dozens of women working in schools in Ad Dakhiliya Governorate gathered to protest over the Ministry of Education’s stoppage of their salaries, and to demand security of employment and fixed contracts.

19 November:

News of a royal pardon for prisoners in the Musandam case (the “Shuhuh Six”). As far as the OCHR has heard, only four of the six men were released and the other two, who are UAE nationals, are still being held.

Note:

The Centre has monitored numerous cases of Omani women and men being called in for questioning over posts on Twitter or Facebook. In some cases they have been questioned for hours, and in others they have been detained and interrogated for several days, then released without any charges being brought against them. At their request, the OCHR is not mentioning these people’s names or even dates relating to their summonses.

The Centre would also like to point out that since Sultan Haitham came to power the number of cases in which people are called in and held for questioning over online activities has been higher than in previous years, and people are even starting to be called in for criticising private commercial institutions or enterprises and public tenders. Some of the women and men tweeting about these things have closed their accounts or stopped posting because of undertakings they have signed.

OCHR Reports

14 January:

The Centre published a report on the revised Omani Penal Code issued in 2018, marking the second anniversary of its promulgation.

2 February:

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:

8 March:

International Women’s Day: https://ochroman.org/eng/2020/03/internationalwomensday/

23 March:

Do you live in a free society?

20 April:

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights:

3 May:

Press freedom in Oman:

19 May:

Human rights under the new Sultan:

22 June:

Domestic violence against women in Oman:

30 July:

Trafficking in persons:

20 August:

Freedom of religion and belief:

30 August:

The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance:

15 September:

International Day of Democracy:

19 October:

The ‘Paris Principles’ and the Oman Human Rights Commission:

16 November:

International Day for Tolerance:

10 December:

International Human Rights Day:

16 December:

International Migrants Day:

Women’s Rights and Feminism Project

10 August:

Women in Oman and the judiciary:

22 September:

What is violence against women?

9 October:

International Day of the Girl Child:

2 November:

The history of feminism:

24 November:

Ways to help stop violence against women:

Universal Periodic Review

14 July:

The OCHR’s co-contribution to the Third Universal Periodic Review of Oman, scheduled to be conducted by the UN Human Rights Council in January 2021:

https://www.menarights.org/ar/documents/nzrt-amt-ly-halt-hqwq-alansan-fy-man-fy-syaq-alastrad-aldwry-alshaml-althalth

14 July:

Accreditation of the Centre’s own report to the Universal Periodic Review on Oman.

Articles

Oman and the UN Human Rights Council:  24 years of very little progress (in two parts):


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSLxVg7srdw

[2] For more about the Musandam case see https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/MDE2099712019ENGLISH.pdf