Oman should initiate reforms to bring its human rights laws into compliance with international standards, Human Rights Watch has said.
The rights group said Oman’s security forces routinely harass, detain, and imprison rights defenders, social media users, and others critical of governmental policies.
It said in a statement that its researchers documented a pattern of arrests and detentions that violated fundamental political rights, including free speech.
“The pattern of arrests and interrogations in Oman has clearly had a chilling effect on the ability of Omanis to speak out,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“Oman cannot claim to be a rights respecting nation when authorities routinely arrest peaceful dissenters.”
Oman should immediately release everyone detained solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, Human Rights Watch said.
It said officials relied on laws criminalising “illegal gatherings” and “insulting” Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said, the country’s ruler, to convict hundreds of pro-reform demonstrators in 2011 and 2012.
Sultan Qaboos later pardoned most of those convicted, but security forces continue to harass and detain peaceful activists, relying on overly broad laws that criminalise the peaceful exercise of basic rights, the rights group added.
On September 13, Maina Kiai, the UN special rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association, issued a statement after his first country visit to Oman in which he noted a “pervasive culture of silence and fear affecting anyone who wants to speak and work for reforms".
He said the authorities should urgently repeal or amend “laws which have a detrimental impact on the exercise of peaceful assembly and association rights".
Human Rights Watch wrote to the government on September 25, expressing concern and requesting information regarding cases of targeted activists and dissidents, but has had no response, it said.
“Cooperation and engagement with UN rights bodies are steps in the right direction, but they are no substitute for concrete and meaningful rights reform,” Stork said. “Oman should stop arresting its critics and join all relevant international rights treaties as a first step to signaling its commitment to real reform.”
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