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

  • Iran: Release of long-term Christian prisoner

    Posted on 4th August

    Greetings in the name of Jesus.

    Middle East Concern is pleased to report that a Christian prisoner in Iran has been released.

    Alireza Seyyedian, a member of the non-trinitarian “Church of Iran”, was arrested on 14th March 2012 when attempting to escape from Iran to Turkey. He had previously been convicted on charges of “propaganda against the regime” and “acting against national security” and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment, 90 lashes and a fine.
     
    In May 2013 it was reported that Alireza’s sentence had been reduced to three and a half years.
     
    On 23rd October 2014 Alireza went on hunger strike to protest against overcrowding and demand relocation from ward 10 in Rajaei Shahr prison. He stopped the hunger strike at the beginning of November. In May 2015 Alireza was transferred to Ward 1 in Rajaei Shahr prison.

    On 27th July Alireza was allowed out of prison on furlough and on 1st August he was officially released after 3 years, 6 months and 10 days in prison.

    Another believer from Alireza’s network, Mohammadreza Hosseini, was also arrested and detained at the same time and it is believed that he is still in detention.

    Iranian Christians rejoice with Alireza, praising God for his release. They request our continued prayers for Mohammadreza and approximately 90 others who are still imprisoned in Iran on account of their Christian faith and activities.

    Please pray that:
    a. Alireza will recover quickly from the trauma of his imprisonment, experience healing and adjust to normal family life
    b. those serving their sentences will be encouraged and strengthened in their faith and experience the love of God and the presence of Christ
    c. the intimidation of Christians in Iran will not result in fear, but instead that faith will be strengthened and a clear witness maintained
    d. all prisoners in Iran will be treated with respect and dignity, as beings created in the image of God, and that those imprisoned unjustly on account of their faith in Jesus will be released soon
    e. 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.

     

     
  • Sudan: Update on pastors on trial

    Posted on 15th July

    Greetings in the name of Jesus.

    Christians in Sudan request our continued prayers for Michael Yat (49) and Peter Yen Reith (36), two South Sudanese pastors on trial in Khartoum who had their latest hearing yesterday, 14th July.

    In yesterday's hearing, lawyers presented the case for the defence. There were two witnesses, an IT expert and a retired army general. The pastors have stated that some of the "incriminating" documents allegedly found on their computers are not theirs. The IT expert testified as to how easy it would have been for others to plant the documents on their computers without their knowledge. The retired general testified that the documents used as evidence against the pastors are in the public domain and are not related to military or other state secrets as had been alleged.

    The next hearing will be on 23rd July and will be for procedural purposes only. The verdict is expected during a hearing on 5th August.

    Observers from a number of foreign embassies were present at yesterday's hearing. An official from the Sudanese Ministry of Justice told one of the pastors' lawyers that the extent of outside interest has led the Government to take a very close interest in the case.

    On 3rd July we requested prayer for an associate of the two pastors, Pastor Hafez, and for one of their lawyers, Mohaned Mustafa. Both were briefly detained on 1st July when challenging a government employee who was overseeing the destruction of parts of the church complex. The employee was attempting to destroy a part of the complex that was not within the government order. It is still not known when the case against Pastor Hafez and Mohaned will be brought to court.

    Christians in Sudan ask us to pray that:
    a. Pastor Yat and Pastor Reith, together with their families, will know the Lord's peace and protection
    b. all charges against them will be dropped
    c. similarly, that the charges against Pastor Hafez and Mohaned will be dropped
    d. church leaders in Sudan will know the Lord's wisdom in the face of increasing pressures against them
    e. 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.

     

     
  • Syria & Iraq: Franciscan priest released, other Christians abducted and murdered

    Posted on 13th July 2015

    Greetings in the name of Jesus, the Lamb of God.

    On 8th July MEC requested prayer following the abduction of Father Dhiya Aziz, an Iraqi  Franciscan priest serving in north-west Syria. Fr Dhiya had been missing since Saturday 4th July.
     
    MEC is pleased to report that he has been released. The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, the order to which Fr Dhiya is affiliated, reported his liberation on 9th July, noting that he had been treated well during his ordeal. They added that Jabhat an-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate group controlling that area, allegedly assisted in securing Fr Dhiya's release from another group responsible for the abduction.
     
    This incident highlights the significant danger of kidnapping at the hands of a wide range of extremist or opportunist groups, faced by many communities in Syria and Iraq. Minority communities feel especially vulnerable to abduction, including kidnappings for ransom.
     
    Between 21st June and 1st July, four Christians were abducted in Baghdad. One was released following police intervention. For the other three, ransoms were demanded and paid. However, two were murdered, even though ransoms had been paid. The other was released. Imad Youkhana, an Iraqi Christian member of parliament, issued a statement on 9th July in which he decried this violence and urged Iraqi authorities to provide greater protection for Iraq’s Christians. He claimed that the violence is part of an intimidation campaign to force Christians to emigrate, but noted the wider impact as the unity of Iraqi society is undermined. An Iraqi NGO, the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization, today (13th July) issued a similar appeal for the protection of Christians in Iraq.
     
    Christians in Syria and Iraq are grateful for the prayers of many around the world. They ask for continued prayer that:
    a.  the families of those abducted and murdered in Iraq will know the presence and comfort of Jesus as they mourn
    b.  Fr Dhiya and others recently released will know the Lord's healing and restoration following their ordeals, and that they and their associates will know His protection and wisdom in all aspects of their life and ministry
    c.  all who are still abducted will know the Lord's comfort and sustaining, and that they will be released soon
    d.  Christians in Syria and Iraq will know the Spirit's wisdom and guidance each day
    e.  violence will cease, peace will be restored and the clear rule of law will be applied equally for all in every part of Syria and Iraq
    f.  those responsible for the abduction and murder of innocent civilians, and all who use violent means, will know the Spirit's conviction of sin, seek the Father's forgiveness and find new life in the Son

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

     
  • Iran: Christian prisoner informed of early release date

    Posted on 8th July 2015

     

    Greetings in the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

     

    Iranian Christians rejoice in a positive development in the case of Farshid Fathi, in prison since December 2010, who has been informed that he is due for early release. 

     

    Farshid was among 22 believers arrested in Tehran on 26th December 2010 as part of a wider wave of arrests. By the end of April 2011 all had been released except Farshid. In April 2012 Farshid was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment, charged with "acting against national security through membership of a Christian organization, collection of funds, and propaganda against the Islamic Regime by helping spread Christianity in the country". Originally held in Evin Prison, Farshid was transferred to Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj in August 2014. An additional year was added to his sentence following claims by the authorities that alcohol had been discovered during a raid on Evin Prison in April 2014.

     

    On 4th July prison authorities in Rajai Shahr notified Farshid in writing that he is due for early release in December 2015 (rather than December 2017 if he were to serve his full sentence).

     

    There have been developments in the cases of three others sentenced on account of their faith. Pastor Behnam Irani, serving a six year sentence since April 2010, has been allowed a 15-day furlough from Ghezal Hesar prison on payment of bail equivalent to $50,000. Eskandar Rezai and Bijan Haghighi, members of a fellowship raided in Shiraz in October 2012, have been summoned to serve their sentences. Along with five others, Eskandar and Bijan were given sentences ranging from one year to six years for crimes of "action against national security" and "propaganda against the order of the system." In 2014 the other five were summoned to serve their sentences in Shiraz, but Eskandar and Bijan remained free on bail. Following the recent summons, Eskander is now in Adelabad Prison, Shiraz, serving a one year sentence, and Bijan will soon start serving a three year prison sentence.

     

    Iranian Christians request our prayers that:

    a. the Iranian authorities will stand by their commitment to release Farshid in December, or earlier

    b. God will keep Farshid and bless him in these last months of imprisonment

    c. the furlough will be a time of great encouragement and renewal for Behnam and his family

    d. prisoners in Iran will be treated with respect and dignity as beings created in the image of God, and that others in prison on account of their faith in Jesus, including Eskander and Bijan and their five associates, will be released soon

    e. 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.

     
  • Syria: Abduction of Franciscan priest

    Posted on 8th July 2015

     

    Greetings in the name of Jesus, the Lamb of God.

     

    As violence continues in many parts of their country, Syrian Christians request renewed prayer for peace and for all affected by the ongoing conflict, including Christian communities following the abduction of a Franciscan priest on Saturday 4th July in north-west Syria.

     

    Father Dhiya Aziz, who is Iraqi, was taken by militants from Yacoubieh, Idlib Province, where he serves as parish priest. The militants were purportedly taking him for a brief meeting with the Emir who exercises authority in that area, which is under the control of the al-Qaeda affiliate group, Jabhat an-Nusra.

     

    The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land report that no news has been received of Fr. Dhiya since his abduction. Some draw hope from the fact that two militants later returned to collect Fr. Dhiya's medication. Some also draw hope from the fact that, in October 2014, Fr. Hanna Jallouf, the Franciscan priest of the neighbouring parish of Qunayeh, was released along with several of his parishioners within a few days of their abduction by militants.

     

    However, several church leaders abducted by militant groups in recent years remain unaccounted for. These include: Fr. Michel Kayyal (Armenian Catholic) and Fr. Maher Mahfouz (Greek  Orthodox), abducted in February 2013; Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim (Syriac Orthodox) and Bishop Boulos Yaziji (Greek Orthodox), abducted in April 2013; Fr. Paolo Dall'Oglio (Jesuit), abducted in July 2013 - recent rumours suggest he may no longer be alive; and Fr. Jacques Mourad (Syriac Catholic), abducted in May 2015.

     

    In north-east Syria, advances by Daesh ('Islamic State') militants in the city of Hassaka on 24th June led to further mass displacement, including of Assyrian Christian families, some of whom had fled to the city when their villages were overrun by Daesh in February.

     

    Syrian Christians ask us to pray that:

    a.  Fr. Dhiya will know the Lord's presence and protection, and that he will be released soon

    b.  others abducted who remain unaccounted for will similarly know the Lord's comfort and sustaining, and that they will be released soon

    c.  those displaced from their homes will know the Lord's care and provision, and will be able to return before long

    d.  violence will cease, peace will be restored and the clear rule of law will be applied equally for all in Syria

    e.  those responsible for the murder and abduction of innocent civilians will know the Spirit's conviction of sin, seek the Father's forgiveness and find new life in the Son

     

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