Human Rights Abuses in Oman’s Secret Detention Centres: The Unseen Brutality of the Internal Security Service


Despite Oman’s announcement of ratifying the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2020, which was positively received by many human rights organisations, local laws in Oman continue to infringe on human rights.


During the wave of protests that broke out in several Omani cities in 2011, a number of activists and protesters were arrested by the Omani Internal Security Service (ISS). Arrests were carried out in various ways, including direct summons via phone calls, detaining individuals at protest sites, kidnapping activists from public places, or attacking their residences.


These arresting practises persists to this day, and many activists or journals are still being kidnapped from public areas or summoned by phone and threatened with severe consequences if they fail to comply. When detained, the person’s head is typically covered with a black bag, and they are taken to an unknown location. This prevents the detainee from contacting their lawyer, legal representative, or family to inform them of their whereabouts.


According to reports received by the OCHR, some detainees were subjected to various forms of psychological torture, such as being deprived of sleep, exposed to loud and continuous music for 24 hours, subjected to constant and intense lighting, or deprived of food and water for extended periods of time, sometimes lasting for days, or being denied access to toilets.


According to Article 1 of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, torture is:


“any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

Despite Oman signing the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2020, through Decree No. 45/2020, the ISS persists in using the same interrogation techniques and torture methods on prisoners of conscience. In fact, the issue of Decree No. 4/2020 by the current sultan, Haitham bin Tariq, granted the ISS broader powers to monitor, spy, search and arrests. The decree also gave the head of the ISS unlimited powers to issue the bye-laws and regulations needed to implement the new Law.


Moreover, the authorities have arrested activists and dissidents of other gulf cooperation countries (GCC) and forcibly returned them to their countries, which contradicts Article 3 of the agreement that Oman has ratified.


Unfortunately, individuals in Oman who have been subjected to torture, enforced disappearance, or arbitrary detention by the ISS are not entitled to pursue legal action against those who have tortured them, which is a violation of Articles 13 and 14 of the Convention. This is because Article 5 of the ISS Law handles all information about the ISS and its employees and documents as national security secrets.


It is crucial to note that the Omani Human Rights Commission (OHRC) is a governmental agency that lacks independence. Therefore, its involvement in lawsuits related to the ISS or any other governmental body’s alleged human rights violations may not ensure a fair investigation process.

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