Information from Annual survey 2013


Generally speaking, when compared with neighbouring states, Oman has had a good human rights record over recent years. However, human rights groups continue to report problems and call for reform and improvements in a number of areas of human rights.

 

In November 2009 a National Commission for Human Rights was established by royal decree. The government stressed that this reflected Oman’s commitment to maintaining human rights, freedom and dignity. In January 2013 the commission sent a delegation to a regional conference on strengthening indigenous human rights institutions held in Doha.

 

Justice system

Warrants for arrest must either be issued in advance or permission obtained from a judge within 24 hours of the arrest. Suspects may be detained for 14 days provided authorisation is obtained from a court. Extensions are permitted. In practice, the authorities do not always follow the law, and there are occasions when the family, or in the case of expatriates, the relevant embassy, is not promptly notified of arrests and charges.

 

Prisons generally meet international standards, and local human rights groups are allowed to visit. Mistreatment of those in detention is illegal under the constitution and judges can order investigations into such allegations. There was at least one report of abuse occurring during 2013 (see below), with detained political activists being at risk of mistreatment and/or denial of access to lawyers and families.

 

Freedom of expression

Freedom of the press is allowed in theory but restricted in practice. Criticism of the monarchy is not permitted. Restrictions on criticism of officials or ministries was ostensibly relaxed during 2011 as part of the response to protests (see below). All imported materials are subject to censorship. Public events, such as plays, must be approved in advance. In practice, most groups avoid controversial subjects for concerts, plays, etc. for fear of having their events cancelled at the last minute.

 

However, there were serious violations of freedom of expression during 2012. On 31st May a number of activists were arrested, with further arrests during June. This led to trials on charges relating to their criticism of the government. 29 were convicted in separated trials on 26th June and 16th September on charges relating to criticism of the government and unlawful assembly. 28 received jail sentences of six months to a year, and the 29th a suspended jail sentence. On 5th and 12th December the convictions were upheld by an appeals court. At the end of 2012, a number of others were awaiting trials or the outcome of appeals.[1] In March 2013 the Sultan pardoned them. In contrast, others were arrested and charged during 2013. On 24th January 2013 Saeed Jaddad, a human rights activist and blogger, was arrested and charged with “undermining the status and prestige of the state.”

 

On 29th July Sultan al-Saadi was detained and questioned about his calls on Twitter. He was released without charge on 20th August. He reported that he had been ill-treated and not allowed access to his lawyer or family.

 

In September 2013 the government closed down an English-language paper after it published an article on homosexuality. There was a storm of protest about the article on social media in Oman, and was denounced by the Oman’s journalists’ association. The paper, The Week, which had the largest circulation of any English-language newspaper, printed a full page apology. However, it was still closed down.

 

In October 2005 licences were issued for the first four private radio and TV stations in the country. Privately owned newspapers have operated for several years in Arabic and English. All practise self-censorship, and mass media does not publish material critical of officials.

 

Academic freedom is similarly restricted, with no publication or discussion of local politics allowed. University professors can be dismissed if they violate government guidelines.

 

The government blocks access to pornographic or politically sensitive websites. Skype is one online service that is blocked. There have not been reports of religious sites being blocked.

 

Freedom of assembly and association

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly. However, in practice all public events require prior approval. Likewise, the establishment of any organisation, including its by-laws, must be approved by the Ministry of Social Development. Similarly, NGOs may exist to provide services to women, children and the elderly.

 

Freedom of movement

There are a few restrictions on freedom of movement, notably for women who need the permission of their husband or male relative to obtain a passport. They may however travel to other Gulf Cooperation Council states using Identity Cards only, though again the permission of a male guardian is required to obtain such a document.

 

Freedom of religion or belief

The Basic Law of Oman issued by Royal decree in 1996 provides for some degree of religious freedom, whilst establishing Islam as the state religion and Shari’a law as the basis for legislation. Of note is that Article 17 contains provisions for non-discrimination, including on grounds of religion, and Article 28 protects the right to practise recognised religious rites.

 

In practice restrictions apply, including the prevention of evangelism of Muslims. Religious materials, other than Islamic ones, cannot be published in the country, though may be imported.

 

The government monitors mosques to ensure that only approved messages are given, and that Imams and other religious leaders do not promote intolerance or incitement to religious hatred. Sermons must follow standardised texts issued monthly by the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs.

 

The minority Shi’a community claims that it faces discrimination, particularly in the area of employment. There are Shi’ites in senior positions, both in private industry and public service. The latter seems rarer, but there are government ministers who are Shi’ite.

 

Migrants

The GCC countries (see below) have collectively come under pressure to address the issues of the abuse of some migrant domestic workers and to reform the ‘kafala’ sponsorship system to meet the standards recommended the by International Labour Organisation’s Domestic Workers’ Convention. There has been some commitment to reform, including a GCC standard contract, and it should be noted that the worst stories from the Arabian Peninsula do not originate in Oman. However, the proposed reforms are regarded as inadequate by human rights organisations.[2]

 

Miscellaneous

In November 2008 the property ownership laws were amended to give women equal rights with men.

 

There is a National Committee for Combating Human Trafficking tasked with proposing new laws. One aspect being addressed is to allow expatriates to keep possession of their passports (rather than have them retained by their employers).

 

Status of key international Human Rights treaties:[3]

Treaty

Status

Covenant on Civil & Political Rights

-

Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

-

Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

-

Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women

Acceded

Convention on the Rights of the Child

Acceded



[2] Human Rights Watch; 17th November 2013; http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/11/16/proposed-domestic-workers-contract-falls-short; checked 26th February 2014

[3] The intention is to provide a summary of where each country has positioned itself with respect to international law, i.e. to what extent each country has formally undertaken to accept the provisions and standards set. The terms ratified and acceded imply acceptance.

 

Latest Requests

  • Syria: Destruction of monastery, update on abducted Christians

    Posted on 21st August

     

    Greetings in the name of Jesus.

    On 7th August we requested prayer following the abduction by Daesh (so-called "Islamic State" or ISIS) militants on 5th August of more than 200 civilians from the town of al-Qaryatain in Homs governorate, including at least 60 Christians.

    According to reports issued on 20th August, Daesh militants proceeded to demolish the Syrian Catholic monastery of Saint Elian in al-Qaryatain, built on the site of the 1,500-year-old tomb of Saint Elian. Reports also claim that Daesh has moved more than 100 abductees to its heartland in Raqqa province, including Christians who have been forced either to convert to Islam or be subjugated under the 'jizya' tax. It remains unclear whether those moved to Raqqa include the priest Father Jacques Mourad and deacon Boutros Hanna, who were abducted in al-Qaryatain on 21st May.

    In a separate development 22 elderly Assyrian Christians (14 women and 8 men) were released by Daesh on 11th August. These Christians were among the group of more than 230 Christians abducted from villages in al-Hassaka governorate on 23rd February. More than 180 of these abductees are understood to remain in captivity. Ransom demands have previously been made for the release of these abductees, though church sources deny that payments were made to Daesh for the 22 recently released.

    Elsewhere, Father Antoine Boutros, a Greek Catholic priest of Saint Philip's church in Shahba in Suweida governorate, was released on 15th August following a month of captivity and after intervention by local dignitaries. Father Antoine and his driver Said al-Abdoun were abducted on 12th July as they travelled to a nearby village to celebrate mass. It is not yet confirmed whether Said has also been released. Nor is it known which group was responsible for their abduction.

    Syrian Christians request prayer that:
    a. all those who are still abducted will find refuge in God in their distress, and that He will strengthen and protect them
    b. the abductors will treat their victims with compassion and set them free
    c. the Christians among those abducted will be faithful witnesses to their captors and fellow captives
    d. those who have recently been released will know the Lord's comfort, healing and provision
    e. violence will cease, peace will be restored and the clear rule of law will be applied equally for all in Syria

     

    May be circulated to general mailing lists, outside organisations, and quoted from freely in reports citing "Middle East Concern" as the source of the information.

     
  • Sudan: Update on pastors imprisoned for their faith

    Posted on 20th August

     

    Greetings in the name of Jesus.

     

    On 6th August Middle East Concern reported that Pastor Michael Yat (49) and Pastor Peter Yen Reith (36) had been banned from leaving Sudan despite their release after they were unjustly imprisoned in the capital Khartoum.

     

    The pastors' lawyer has been appealing against the travel ban which had been imposed by the prosecutor. This morning (20th August) a court revoked the ban, but the National Intelligence and Security Service is appealing against that decision.

     

    As the procedure to lift the ban was taking longer than expected, the pastors sought other ways of leaving the country. They succeeded in departing from Sudan yesterday, travelling first to their home country South Sudan and then onwards from there.

     

    Please pray:
    a. that Pastor Yat, Pastor Reith and their families will know the Lord's clear guidance and provision
    b. that there will be no repercussions for others arising out of the pastors' departure from Sudan
    c. for the lawyer, who is facing charges in a related case
    d. that church leaders in Sudan will know the Lord's wisdom in the face of increasing pressures against them
    e. that all officials involved will love mercy, act justly, learn about Jesus and choose to follow Him

     

    May be circulated to general mailing lists, outside organisations, and quoted from freely in reports citing "Middle East Concern" as the source of the information.

     

     
  • Israel: Christian schools threatened with closure

    Posted on 10th August

    Greetings in the name of Jesus.
     
    Christians in Israel have requested prayer about risks to the continued existence of Christian schools in the country.
     
    Christian schools have a long history serving the Christian community in Israel, but recent government cuts in subsidies received by these schools, as well as restrictions in the amount of school fees which may be collected from parents, have created an impasse and in a press communiqué on 9th August the General Secretariat of the Christian Schools in Israel announced that Christian schools may not be able to open for the coming school year.
     
    There are 47 Christian schools in Israel associated with different denominations and serving mainly the Israeli Arab community of Christians and Muslims.
     
    The General Secretariat has a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin and Education Minister Naftali Bennet scheduled for the end of August to discuss the situation.
     
    Christians in Israel are asking for the Christian ethos of the schools to be protected and the significance of the schools for the Christian community to be recognised and supported by the Israeli government.
     
    Please pray that:
    a. the meeting with the President and Education Minister will be successful in finding a way forward out of the present crisis
    b. the Israeli government will recognise and support the useful role of these schools in society
    c. God will give wisdom to the General Secretariat of the Christian Schools in Israel in their discussions and the way they present the issue to the media
    d. none of the schools will have to close through the present financial pressure
     
    May be circulated to general mailing lists, outside organisations, and quoted from freely in reports citing "Middle East Concern" as the source of the information.

     
  • Syria: Christians abducted, village attacked

    Posted on 7th August

     

    Greetings in the name of Jesus.

    Prayer is requested for a group of at least 60 Christians abducted by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group in Syria.

    According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 230 civilians were taken on Thursday in the town of Al-Qaryatain, which ISIS jihadists had captured late on Wednesday. They included at least 60 Christians, many of whom had previously fled from Aleppo province in Syria’s north to seek refuge in Al-Qaryatain.

    A commentator for the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said those abducted were wanted by ISIS for “collaborating with the regime”, and their names were on a list already prepared by the jihadists as they occupied the town. This has serious implications for those people and their lives could be in danger.

    According to sources related to the Assyrian Orthodox Metropolitan in Homs, while Al-Qaryatain was being attacked another attack by ISIS was concentrated on the town of Hawwarin 10km away. This is an Assyrian village and approximately 2,000 Assyrian Christians were forced to flee.

    Recent developments suggest that ISIS is again starting to target local Christians in Syria. In May masked men abducted Syrian priest Jacques Mourad from the Syriac Catholic Mar Elian monastery in Al-Qaryatain near the ancient city of Palmyra, after it was captured by ISIS. Father Mourad, who helped both Christians and Muslims, was preparing aid for an influx of refugees from Palmyra and his whereabouts are still unknown. Pope Francis mentioned him specifically in public prayer on 26th July.

    Prayer is requested that:
    a.    those abducted will find refuge in God in their distress and that He will strengthen and protect them
    b.    the abductors will treat their victims with compassion and set them free
    c.    the Christians among those abducted will be a faithful witness to their captors and fellow captives
    d.    those who have fled from Hawwarin will find refuge
    e.    Father Mourad will be restored to freedom

     

    May be circulated to general mailing lists, outside organisations, and quoted from freely in reports citing "Middle East Concern" as the source of the information.

     
  • Sudan: Travel ban for pastors

    Posted on 6th August

     

    Greetings in the name of Jesus.

    After they were released from prison yesterday, Pastor Michael Yat (49) and Pastor Peter Yen Reith (36) travelled to the airport to leave Sudan this morning.

    However, they were not allowed to fly out due to a travel ban that is still in force.

    Their lawyer has returned to the judge to ask for the ban to be lifted.

    He was told to come back on Sunday (after the Sudanese weekend) to file a petition.

    However, the judge will only have jurisdiction if the travel ban was instituted by the prosecutor as part of the legal proceedings.

    If the travel ban was instigated by the Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) the judge will have no jurisdiction and the lawyer will have to petition the NISS to have it lifted.

    This would be much more difficult.

    Middle East Concern is hopeful that the two South Sudanese pastors will be able to travel early next week.

    Please pray:
    a. for Pastor Yat, Pastor Reith and their families
    b. that the two pastors will be able to travel as soon as possible
    b. that church leaders in Sudan will know the Lord's wisdom in the face of increasing pressures against them
    c. that all officials involved will love mercy, act justly, learn about Jesus and choose to follow Him

     

    May be circulated to general mailing lists, outside organisations, and quoted from freely in reports citing "Middle East Concern" as the source of the information.