The right to human dignity, and prison conditions in Oman


Although all human beings have the right to have their human dignity preserved, the Omani authorities violate this right along with several other fundamental human rights, such as the right to freedom from torture or ill-treatment, the right to a fair trial, the right to privacy, and medical treatment.  In this report, the Omani Centre for Human Rights (OCHR) looks at the various ways in which the Omani regime violates human rights and the right to human dignity in terms of arrest procedures and prison conditions.

1 – Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

The law prohibits such practices. In May 2019 Amnesty International reported allegations that the authorities had physically abused defendants from the Al- Shehhi tribe who had criticised the government’s policies in Musandam governorate in order to extract confessions. The government-funded Oman Human Rights Commission claimed to have examined the allegations in this report and not found any abusive treatment of the defendants.[1] In 2020, an Omani citizen called Sultan Ambusaidi spoke out about having been tortured by members of the Internal Security Service in 2017.[2] There have also been reports of secret prisons carrying out psychological torture, against prisoners of conscience, for example. According to testimonies shared with the OCHR, the following types of psychological torture are employed: ‘white torture’ (or ‘white room torture’); torture by means of repetitive noises, loud music or bright lighting; sleep deprivation, and holding detainees in very cold or very hot rooms.[3]

2 – Prison conditions

It was reported that Samail Central Prison refused to allow in prescribed medication for some of the prisoners detained in the Musandam case, such as drugs for high blood pressure and diabetes, and restricted them to only one specific type of drug. It also failed to meet their dietary requirements.[4] It supplies inmates with only one prison uniform per year.[5]

There is no established authority to which prisoners can bring grievances concerning prison conditions. The governmental Oman Human Rights Commission conducts prison and detention centre site visits and reviews written complaints in conjunction with prison administrators; there is no ombudsman to serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees. Prisoners and detainees do not always have regular access to visitors, and consular officials from some diplomatic missions have reported difficulties in meeting with prisoners or delayed notification about detained citizens.[6]

3 – Arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention

Many activists are subjected to arbitrary arrest. The OCHR has recorded several cases of political activists being abducted from public places and made to disappear in unknown locations for weeks or even months.[7] Arbitrary arrest is formally prohibited, but suspects arrested in vaguely defined security cases can be held for up to 30 days before being charged, and security forces do not always adhere to other rules on arrest and pre-trial detention.[8]

4 – Arrest procedures and treatment of those charged

The security authorities have made it their practice to summon individuals for questioning, arrest them, detain them, or place them in solitary confinement in unknown locations.

Those called in for questioning are generally summoned to the Internal Security Service (ISS) headquarters in Qurum, in Muscat governorate, or to ISS departments elsewhere in the country. A black sack is then placed over the detainee’s head and upper body, and he is taken away to a secret location. The detainee is not permitted access to a lawyer, and is denied visiting rights. Occasionally the detainee is allowed to phone his family, only to tell them that he “will be away for a while, and there is no need to worry about him”. When detainees are later brought to court or released, they are not allowed to prosecute the authorities responsible for their detention.[9]

As a rule, political prisoners are not granted the same rights as other prisoners, and in many cases documented by the OCHR political prisoners have suffered arbitrary arrest, withdrawal of their citizenship, psychological and physical torture, and imprisonment.

5 – Denial of fair trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the sultan may act as a court of final appeal and exercise his power of pardon as president of the Supreme Judicial Council, the country’s highest legal body, which is empowered to review all judicial decisions. The law provides for the right to a fair trial. Both citizens and foreign residents have the right to a public trial, except when the court decides to hold a session in private in the interest of public order or morals; the government also reserves the right to close “sensitive cases” to the public.[10]

To date, no woman has held the position of a judge in Oman.[11]

6 – Invasion of privacy

The OCHR has evidence that activists’ social media accounts and phone conversations are monitored; there are security personnel spying on them when they meet friends in public places; a number of activists who have been called in for questioning have been interrogated about voice recordings and private text messages sent over the internet; and the Omani Public Prosecutor has brought several charges against activists because of WhatsApp messages, and the Omani courts have accepted this.[12]


[1] Oman – United States Department of State

[2] OCHR:

[3] OCHR:

[4] OCHR:

[5] Oman – United States Department of State

[6] Ibid.

[7] OCHR:

[8] Oman: Freedom in the World 2021 Country Report | Freedom House

[9] OCHR:

[10] Oman – United States Department of State

[11] OCHR:

[12] OCHR:

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