On Human Rights Day, 10 December, we review the issues in Oman

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Every year the international community observes 10 December as Human Rights Day, marking the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

The UDHR recognised many rights as inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to enjoy “regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”.[1]

The UN explains that human rights are fundamental and lie “at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals, as in the absence of human dignity we cannot hope to drive sustainable development”.[2]

So, on this auspicious occasion, the Oman Centre for Human Rights would like to highlight a number of issues posing a challenge for human rights in Oman.

1 – Freedom to publish and carry out independent journalism:

There is a real crisis in this area, following the closing down of newspapers and magazines, withdrawal or banning of books, withdrawal of an international journalist’s accreditation and the arrests of several writers, journalists and Twitter commentators because of their views.

The Omani Press and Publications Law, together with Article 135 of the Omani Penal Code, makes any free and independent journalism not affiliated with the state, or persons loyal to the state, a highly risky undertaking.

The Press and Publications Law requires an official licence to be obtained to issue newspapers, magazines and other publications, with a capital requirement of at least OR250,000 ($650,000) for magazines and OR500,000 ($1.2 million) for newspapers.

2 – Freedom of religion and belief:

The freedom to practise, or not to practise, a religion is being sorely tested, with several writers having been arrested for openly publishing their atheistic views and criticising certain practices in Islam.

The revised Omani Penal Code of 2018 added a religious tinge to many of its provisions, raising concerns for religious, sectarian and intellectual freedoms in the future.

Article 269 makes atheistic and similar activities crimes for which the practitioner can be punished with a prison sentence of between three and ten years.

Under Article 277, meanwhile, the punishment for breaking the Ramadan fast in public is imprisonment for between ten days and three months.

3 – The rights of workers and migrant labourers:

There is widespread criticism of workers’ rights in Oman, especially in the private sector, where employees of major companies can be arbitrarily dismissed and the government fails to protect their rights by not drawing up or passing the necessary laws. There are calls for “labour tribunals” to be set up to examine cases involving workers employed in private sector companies, and for parts of the Omani Labour Law to be rewritten.

Female domestic workers continue to suffer many forms of ill-treatment at work, such as non-payment of their salaries, physical abuse, sexual harassment, and transfer of their sponsorship from one employer to another without their consent, indeed sometimes without their knowledge.

4 – Freedom of opinion and expression:

According to Article 97 of the revised Omani Penal Code, anyone arrested for holding opposition views may face a prison term of between three and seven years. 

The crime of criticising any foreign head of state in Oman is punishable, under Article 102, by imprisonment for between three months and three years.

Peaceful demonstrations are banned in Oman and considered a crime.  The punishment for anyone taking part in a peaceful protest is a monetary fine and jail term of up to a year, according to Article 121, which mandates their arrest.

It is also a crime in Oman to form parties or associations to carry out political or human rights work, according to Article 116 of the revised Omani Penal Code, for which the punishment can be up to ten years in jail. 

5 – Freedom of sexual orientation:

Homosexuality is considered a crime in Oman, and anyone openly exercising the freedom to express their homosexuality, even on social media, can be arrested.

Article 261 of the new Penal Code allows any homosexual person to be imprisoned for between one and three years.       

6 – Withdrawal or loss of citizenship:

Omani nationality can be withdrawn. There have been several cases where passports and other personal documents have been withdrawn, limiting the movements of affected activists and in some cases causing them to lose their jobs. Royal Decree 38/2014 gave the Ministry of Interior absolute authority to decide whether to withdraw or cancel someone’s nationality, without giving the courts the right to intervene.

7 – Enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests:

Arbitrary arrest is something commonly experienced by activists, bloggers and journalists. Many continue to be forcibly abducted from public places and smuggled away to unknown locations, in some cases for several weeks. 

Although Article 9 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlaws such measures, Oman’s security forces will arbitrarily arrest any individual simply for expressing an opinion.

Oman recently ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, but certain Articles in the Omani Penal Code, and the powers granted to the Internal Security Service by the Internal Security Service Law issued in April 2020, prevent parts of this Convention from being implemented.


[1] United Nations, https://www.un.org/en/observances/human-rights-day

[2] Ibid.