US Department of State report: Human Rights in Oman, 2020
On 30 March 2021 the US State Department issued its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for the calendar year 2020.
We highlight here the main issues discussed in the chapter on Oman, such as arbitrary arrests, prison conditions and civil and political freedoms; you can find the full Oman report at https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/oman/.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
The report noted allegations that authorities physically abused defendants from the al-Shehhi tribe who criticised government policies in Musandam governorate in order to extract confessions, which resulted in life sentences for the six defendants; and that the government-funded Human Rights Commission dismissed these allegations.
It also discussed conditions in Omani prisons, and quoted Amnesty International as describing the conditions in Samail Central Prison as ‘poor’, with the prison not providing appropriate meals or prescribing medications to inmates with diabetes or other illnesses, and only supplying prisoners with one uniform per year. The government-funded Human Rights Commission claimed to have visited Samail Central Prison and observed that sick prisoners did have access to medical care and appropriate food.
The State Department report noted that there was no independent ombudsman to which prisoners could bring grievances, and that prisoners and detainees did not always have regular access to visitors.
The report also talked about arbitrary arrests and detention, mentioning the case of Ghazi al-Awlaki, a peaceful political activist, as an example.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
The law provides for limited freedom of speech and press in Oman, but the authorities did not always respect these rights.
The law prohibits criticism of the sultan in any form or medium, and many individuals have been prosecuted for writing about the sultan in a way the government perceived to be negative.
Authorities reportedly used intimidation to discourage some activists from calling for reforms or writing about the country’s political situation following the death of Sultan Qaboos, a human rights organisation (the Omani Centre for Human Rights, OCHR) said in January. The State Department quotes our report that an activist living in exile had told us that he and members of his family in Oman received threats from senior Omani officials, who instructed his family to prevent him from posting anything on social media.
The coronavirus pandemic was used as a pretext to harass journalists, curtail civil liberties, and suppress criticism of the authorities.
Media did not operate freely but were subject to censorship and content restrictions. The government confiscated or prohibited more than 20 books during the country’s annual state-run Muscat International Book Fair, human rights organisations (including the OCHR) reported in February.
The law restricts free speech exercised via the internet, and the government enforced these restrictions. Awadh al-Sawafi, an activist and blogger, was arrested and detained for social media posts in which he criticised the government for threatening citizens, as the OCHR reported at the time. He was subsequently given a suspended one-year prison sentence and banned from using social media for a year.
Human rights observers expressed concern that the country’s new Cyber Defence Centre, established in June under the Internal Security Service, would further compromise internet freedom and freedom of expression.
The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events.
It also restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; it was not a straightforward matter to register associations, and the government sometimes denied permission for associations to form.
Freedom of movement was restricted for many foreign workers who had their passports confiscated by employers. Employers have a great amount of control over these workers under the kafala sponsorship system, particularly domestic workers who are not covered by the labour laws. NGOs and embassies alleged, as the OCHR has previously reported, that female domestic workers faced maltreatment including physical, sexual and psychological abuse.
The law discriminates against women in that Omani citizenship is passed only through the father, so an Omani woman married to a non-Omani citizen does not have the same rights as an Omani man.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
Omani citizens do not have the ability to choose their government in free and fair elections. The sultan retains ultimate authority on all foreign and domestic issues.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The report talks about claims of government corruption and (without naming them) the harassment of activists who criticise it.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
No independent domestic human rights organisations existed in the country. The law permits domestic and international actors to request permission to engage in human rights work, but none did so because of the difficulty of obtaining permission.
The State Department’s report discussed some further issues in detail, such as female genital mutilation, women’s rights, the rights of the child, and migrant workers’ rights, as well as acts of violence, criminalisation and other abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
You can find the Oman chapter of the US State Department’s report at https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/oman/.