Free Societies – Oman
Freedom House, in its latest report on freedoms, classified Oman as "not free" based on several criteria regarding political and civil liberties.
Advanced societies with strong democratic representation, protected individual freedoms, and thriving human rights prioritize freedom and the rule of law over customs, traditions, and the opinions of the majority. This provides a safe environment for individuals and minorities to exercise their freedoms and rights, supported by appropriate laws for their protection. These societies typically rely on freedom as a path to security, rather than the power and tyranny of authority, where most individuals find that the presence of a climate of freedom and the maintenance of rights are fundamental motivations to respect the law and strive to preserve or develop it according to the requirements of time, demographic changes, and developments.
Philosopher Karl Popper defined a free society in his book “The Open Society and Its Enemies” as a society in which individuals live as they wish, free from interference by the state/authority. He emphasized the importance of democracy, freedom, and tolerance in these societies, stating that free societies are the ones that endure and continue, not closed ones. Stuart Mill also discussed in his essay “On Liberty” that individual freedom is necessary for the progress of societies, simplifying the definition of freedom as the freedom of will without coercion. He also argued that the only legitimate intervention by authority is to prevent harm to others.
Oman is considered one of the countries where individuals have very limited freedoms, with these individuals practicing self-censorship on their actions, writings, and opinions to avoid any legal accountability that could lead to arrest and imprisonment. Many local laws in Oman criminalize freedom of opinion and expression. The nature of the political system, Sultanate/Monarchy, is one of the main reasons for the existence of this narrow space for freedom of opinion and expression. The Sultan monopolizes several positions according to the state’s Basic Law, such as the presidency of the state, the presidency of the Council of Ministers, the presidency of the government, and the Supreme Judicial Council.
The Omani Penal Code is one of the laws that pose a major obstacle to freedom of opinion, expression, and human rights. It includes several laws that criminalize individuals exercising their rights, such as criticizing the Sultan, government performance, or demanding the development or change of the political system. The authority, represented by the public prosecutor, can interpret the laws according to unclear standards, as many of these articles are vague and subject to interpretation. Individuals can be accused of undermining the state’s dignity, inciting against the regime, or insulting the royal person. For example, Article 97 imposes imprisonment from 3 to 7 years for anyone whose opinion can be interpreted as a slander or insult to the Sultan or his family.
Article 115 of the same law also hinders bloggers and journalists, as its three clauses are used to target bloggers, activists, and writers when they write anything that exposes corruption in the government. The same content of this law (Article 19 of the Information Technology Crimes Law) was exploited in 2016 to shut down the newspaper “Azamn” and was also used to restrict the electronic newspaper “Al-Balad” until its editorial team decided to close it out of fear of any punitive measures that could affect its members. The security authorities also used it in 2017 to revoke a journalist’s license due to a news article published by Reuters, and it was also used to ban the electronic magazine “Mowatin.”
Similarly, Article 121 of the same law imposes imprisonment for a period of not less than 3 months and not exceeding one year, along with a fine, for anyone who participates in a peaceful demonstration. Many individuals have faced prison sentences for their participation in or organization of peaceful demonstrations. Hani Al-Sarhani, who was arrested in August 2022, faced charges related to incitement to gather and spreading false news, solely for calling for a peaceful assembly to protest the economic conditions.
It is worth mentioning that Omani society is not free, as individuals do not enjoy freedom of opinion and expression, and they are not allowed to establish political parties or independent human rights associations. Freedom House, in its latest report on freedoms, classified Oman as “not free” based on several criteria regarding political and civil liberties.