NEWS UPDATE – Torture in Omani prisons: the case of Sultan Ambusaidi

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The Omani Centre for Human Rights has been following with concern the case of Sultan Ambusaidi, an Omani citizen who last week published a video on Instagram in which he talked about having been tortured by individuals working for the Internal Security Service. Sultan said he was tired of being repeatedly arrested and tortured by the authorities. By his account, he was arrested in 2017, held for 30 days, and tortured by having his fingernails removed and electric shocks applied to various sensitive and other parts of his body; and nearly died from being sprayed with tear gas.

Sultan identified one of his torturers as an officer called Salem al-Shiryani, who threatened to torture him until he became infertile, and who ordered a number of soldiers to use various methods of torture. Although he was ultimately acquitted in court, Sultan says he was handed over to Public Prosecutor Issa al-Zakwani, who in turn handed him over to Forensic Medicine in Muscat to examine him for signs of torture. According to Sultan, the medical examination found he had suffered bleeding in various parts of his body as a result of electrocution. He was denied a copy of the medical report, and told that he could only read the copy placed in front of him.

Sultan added that after being acquitted by the court he had brought his own case against those who had tortured him, which was forwarded to the Inspector-General of Police and Customs, Hassan al-Shraiqi. Although the message was received in 2017, nothing further has been done about it since that time, Sultan alleged. In 2018, he continued, he went with his mother to one of the late Sultan Qaboos’s palaces, Hisn al-Shomoukh, and met one of the Sultan’s personal bodyguards. This man in turn assured him that the matter would be investigated and justice would be done, but again nothing happened.

Sultan explained that the reason he had come out in public with his story was that he had failed to get any response from the authorities and was afraid of being tortured again, because he kept getting phone calls from the security services asking him to present himself for questioning. According to Sultan, he was arrested because he owned a foodstuffs company that used to import goods from the UAE and sell them on the local market; his business had been quite successful and expanded to various cities. The arrest, he said, took place after he was accused of stealing from a warehouse, which he denied. He claimed that when he was referred a few days later to the Public Prosecution, and confronted by the Public Prosecutor with a series of confessions, he informed the investigators that he had been coerced under torture into confessing to something he had not done.

In 2020 Oman signed the international Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Article 25 of the Sultanate’s own constitution, the Basic Law of the State, also prohibits any torture, mental or physical, being carried out on any citizen. However, the history of both psychological and physical torture in Oman goes back a long way, and since 2011 many prisoners of conscience have described being subjected to various forms of psychological torture while being held in isolation cells.

The Royal Oman Police have now announced that they will follow up Sultan’s case – though they also insist that the case he is talking about “took place according to legal procedures and took its course through the judicial system” – and have promised to take the necessary measures to bring the facts to light.

The Omani Centre for Human Rights urges the security authorities in Oman to respect the physical and mental integrity of individuals and not subject them to any form of torture, physical or psychological. The Centre also urges that all those involved in cases of torture should be held to account, and calls for laws to be passed establishing a mechanism for making those involved in torture accountable. It stresses, furthermore, the vital importance of creating a mechanism to enable impartial bodies to monitor the work of the Internal Security Service, or similar arrangements, and if need be hold them to account.