The authorities unduly restricted the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Women were accorded the same rights as men with respect to freedom of movement and the freedom to choose their place of residence, but remained inadequately protected in matters such as divorce and domestic violence. A new decree criminalized genital mutilation and accorded children further protection. Migrant workers continued to face exploitation and abuse. The death penalty remained in force; no executions were reported.
Sporadic protests driven by unemployment broke out on 1 January prompting the government to establish the National Center for Employment. The Center, which will become functional in January 2020, is meant to oversee implementation of the government’s policy of “Omanization” of the workforce, which began in 2018 and seeks to replace foreign workers with Omani nationals in order to tackle rising unemployment, and provide employment advice to job seekers. The Ministry of Manpower extended its visa ban on foreign recruitment to senior management roles.
Oman maintained a neutral stance in the regional crisis in which Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates severed relations with Qatar in June 2017.
Freedom of expression and assembly
The authorities continued to unduly restrict the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, arresting protesters, journalists and online activists. In January, several protesters were arrested at a demonstration against unemployment in front of the Ministry of Manpower in the capital, Muscat, but were later released. Two radio journalists from Hala FM were also arrested while covering the demonstration; both were released the same day.
The Internal Security Service pursued its campaign against activists critical of the relations between Oman and Israel. In February, Musab al-Thehli and Haitham al-Mashaikhi were detained for three days and two weeks respectively in relation to posts they had made online. In January, Bader al-Arimi and Obeid bin Hashl al-Hinai were released; they had been arrested for similar reasons in December 2018.
Amnesty International received reliable information that in September 2019 three individuals from the Shuhuh tribe in Musandam province were arbitrarily detained for speaking out against the construction of industrial rock-crushing facilities in the area, which they believed were detrimental to the local community’s health. They were released without charge. The detentions appear to have been intended to silence dissent in the province, in a pattern similar to that seen in previous years. Prisoner of conscience Mohammed Abdullah al-Shahi and five other individuals remained in prison serving life sentences handed down following unfair trials of Shuhuh members in 2018 in which they were convicted on vague charges related to national security. In November, the authorities detained civil society activist Musallam al-Ma’ashani for several days in relation to a book he was writing on the al-Hakli tribe, which had been subjected to state intimidation in recent years; he was released on bail.
The organizers of Muscat’s 24th International Book Fair withdrew around 30 books from the government-run event, but did not disclose the reason.
In August, the Ministry of Social Development issued an executive decree clarifying provisions of the Child Law, which was passed in 2014. The Child Law criminalizes “traditional practices that are harmful to the health of the child”. The executive decree specifies that these include genital mutilation and “rituals that cause harm to the child’s body”. The decree limits the employment of children under 15 to agricultural, administrative and industrial activities, fishing and crafts, provided that the work is run by family members and does not affect the child’s health or education. However, this could, in some cases, still amount to child labour that should be eliminated. The decree also sets out guidelines to regulate the establishment and operation of nurseries.
Oman withdrew its reservation to Section 4 of Article 15 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, thereby according to men and women the same rights with respect to movement of persons and the freedom to choose their place of residence. However, women continued to face discrimination, in law and practice, in relation to matters such as divorce, child custody, inheritance and passing their nationality on to their children. The law still does not prohibit gender-based violence or marital rape.
Migrant workers continued to face exploitation and abuse as a result of the shortcomings of Oman’s labour laws and the restrictive kafala (sponsorship) system that ties them to their employers. The laws prevent migrant workers from changing jobs or leaving the country without their employers’ permission. This severely limits their ability to escape abusive working conditions and facilitates exploitation. Domestic workers continued to bear the brunt of this system and remained excluded from the protection of the labour laws.
Courts continued to hand down death sentences; no executions were reported.