Principles for Investigating and Arresting Suspects: Balancing Law and Human Rights in Oman


Human rights are fundamental entitlements inherent in every individual, irrespective of their race, gender, nationality, religion, or any other distinguishing factor. These rights are crucial for people to lead a life of dignity and are safeguarded by international human rights laws and treaties. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights enumerates several of these rights, including those that must be respected during the investigation and arrest of individuals accused of committing crimes. In this report, the OCHR analyses the principles governing the investigation and arrest procedures in Oman, in relation to human rights.


The first principle that must be followed is the presumption of innocence. This principle states that every person is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. This means that suspects cannot be treated as guilty before they have been convicted of a crime. The presumption of innocence is a fundamental human right that is enshrined in Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Therefore, investigators and law enforcement officers must treat suspects with respect and dignity and ensure that their rights are protected throughout the investigation process.


In Oman, the Internal Security Services (ISS) has been known to employ harsh tactics such as psychological  and physical torture and imprisonment without proper investigation before pressing charges against suspects. The Centre for Human Rights has documented cases of arbitrary arrests and detention of political activists for prolonged periods of time, sometimes in undisclosed locations. Such incidents were reported as recently as the 2021 protests, where numerous arrests were made and tear gas was used to disperse demonstrators in Sohar on the second day of the demonstrations.


The second principle is the right to a fair trial. This principle states that every person has the right to a fair and impartial trial. This means that suspects must be given access to legal counsel, have the right to remain silent, and be allowed to present evidence and witnesses in their defense. The right to a fair trial is also enshrined in the UDHR in Article 10, which states that “everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.”


The judicial system in Oman is not considered independent since the sultan, who is the head of the Supreme Judicial Council, has the authority to act as the final court of appeal and to pardon offenders. This means that all judicial decisions can be reviewed and overturned by the sultan, raising concerns about the impartiality of the legal system. The OCHR has received numerous complaints from citizens who have been subjected to unjust trials by biased judges, particularly in politically charged cases that attract public attention. Recent cases such as those of entrepreneur Hani Al-Sarhani, journalist Mukhtar Al-Hinai, Sultan Ambusaidi, and prisoners of conscience and detainees who participated in the May 2021 and 2011 demonstrations highlight this issue.


In fact, As of October 20, 2022, Royal Decree No. 68/2022 criminalizes any criticism of the Sultan or a member of his family. Article 97 clearly states: “Whoever commits, publicly or by publication, a challenge to the rights of the Sultan and his prerogatives, or dishonours his person, shall be punished by imprisonment for a period of no less than three years and not exceeding seven years. The same penalty shall apply to whoever commits, publicly or by publication, a challenge to the wife of the Sultan and his heir apparent and his children, or dishonours their persons.”


Recently, on August 4, 2022 Dr. Ahmed Qattan was arrested, after he posted tweets on Twitter calling for broader powers for the Shura Council. Article 97 was subsequently used against him.


The third principle is the prohibition against torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. This principle states that no person shall be subjected to torture or any other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. This means that investigators and law enforcement officers cannot use any form of physical or psychological torture or ill-treatment to extract confessions or obtain information from suspects. The prohibition against torture is also enshrined in the UDHR in Article 5, which states that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”


In Oman, individuals who exercise their right to express their criticisms of the government are still subjected to torture. The authorities employ various methods, including white torture, exposure to repetitive sounds or loud music, sleep deprivation, exposure to bright lights, confinement in excessively hot or cold rooms, and electric shock.


Numerous defendants in political and security cases have been subjected to physical torture in an effort to extract confessions from them, including members of the Shuhuh tribe who criticized government policies in the Musandam Province. In 2017, citizen Sultan Ambusaidi spoke publicly about being tortured by individuals affiliated with the Internal Security Agency, and his case serves as another example of the mistreatment that defendants may face.


The fourth principle is the right to privacy. This principle states that every person has the right to privacy, which includes the right to be free from arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy, family, home, or correspondence. This means that investigators and law enforcement officers cannot search a suspect’s home or seize their property without a warrant or a court order. The right to privacy is also enshrined in the UDHR in Article 12, which states that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation.”


The Omani authorities have been known to violate individuals’ privacy in order to gather evidence to support criminal charges against them, which contravenes Article 8 of the country’s laws. This has particularly affected political and community activists, who have had their social media accounts monitored, phone calls tracked, and even public meetings surveilled by security personnel. Some activists have been summoned for interrogation about their private online communications, including voice recordings and text messages. Shockingly, some have even been charged in court based on evidence obtained from private WhatsApp messages, as was the case with Maryam Al-Nuaimi. Such violations of privacy have serious implications for civil liberties and human rights in Oman.


The principles of human rights investigation and detention are critical in ensuring the protection and respect of the rights of suspects. These principles include the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair trial, protection from torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the right to privacy. Unfortunately, the Omani authorities have repeatedly violated these principles in their treatment of suspects. From arbitrary arrests and detentions to coerced confessions and the use of torture, the rights of suspects have been trampled upon. In addition, the authorities have violated the right to privacy by monitoring individuals’ online communications and social media accounts. These actions are unacceptable and go against the fundamental principles of human rights and the rule of law.


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