The authorities curtailed the rights to freedom of expression and association, using flawed legal procedures to suspend newspapers and to arrest, prosecute and convict journalists on criminal and administrative grounds. Family members of human rights defenders faced harassment and intimidation from the authorities. Women remained subject to discrimination in law. Migrant workers were exposed to exploitation and abuse. The death penalty remained in force; no executions were reported.
Oman maintained a neutral stance in the regional crisis in which Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed relations with Qatar, as well as in relation to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in Yemen since 2015.
There was a marked decline in coverage of human rights issues in the country. Oman’s economy continued to be impacted by: lower oil prices, Oman’s main source of income; a relatively high deficit; the removal of subsidies, notably on petroleum; a rise in fees for some government services; and a temporary hiring freeze for public sector positions.
Freedom of expression
The government continued to unduly restrict freedom of expression. In January the authorities ordered the dismissal of a journalist who was reporting on sex trafficking in the country, and revoked the licence of another journalist who was covering reports that Oman had sought financial support from its neighbours. In February, the annual Muscat International Book Fair suspended the participation of two writers, apparently in connection with their criticism of the government. In April, the authorities arrested at least two people in connection with Facebook posts; they were subsequently released. In May, the government blocked the online publication of the Mowaten newspaper; it remained blocked at the end of the year.
The chilling effect of the trials against Azamn newspaper and its journalists continued to reverberate following Azamn’s publication in 2016 of two reports detailing allegations of corruption in the government and the judiciary. The government renewed a rolling, temporary suspension of the newspaper, despite a court ruling overturning the suspension. In January the Public Prosecutor appealed against the December 2016 acquittal of Azamn journalist Zaher al-‘Abri. He was released on bail in August. Editor-in-chief Ibrahim al-Maamari and deputy editor-in-chief Youssef al-Haj were released in April and October respectively after completing their prison sentences. In June, Azamn staff members approached the government for financial support following its closure.
In January the High Court in the capital, Muscat, overturned a three-year prison sentence on journalist Hassan al-Basham, partly because of his ill-health, and ordered the case back to the Appeal Court. In November the initial three-year prison sentence was upheld. In June 2016 the Court of Appeal in Sohar had upheld the verdict, which was based on charges of “insult” to God and the Sultan.
In January a Muscat Appeal Court overturned the three-year prison sentence and fine of 1,000 Omani Riyals (about USD2,600) handed down in October 2016 to writer Hamoud al-Shukaily, a member of the Omani Society for Writers and Authors, on charges of incitement to protest or disturbing public order relating to a 2016 Facebook post.
The Appeal Court verdict in the case of writer and film critic Abdullah Habib was postponed several times. In November 2016 he had been sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 2,000 Omani Riyals (about USD5,200).
On 23 May a lower instance court sentenced writer and researcher Mansour al-Mahrazi to three years’ imprisonment and a fine on charges of “undermining the state” and violating publication laws by writing and publishing a book in Lebanon without permission. He was appealing the case at the end of the year.
Women faced discrimination in criminal law and in personal status or family law, in relation to matters including divorce, child custody, inheritance, and passing their nationality on to their children.
Workers’ rights – migrant workers
Migrant workers continued to face exploitation and abuse. Domestic workers, mainly women from Asia and Africa, complained that employers to whom they were tied under the official kafala sponsorship system confiscated their passports, forced them to work excessive hours without time off, and denied them their full wages and adequate food and living conditions. The kafala system did not provide domestic workers with the protections available under the Labour Law.
The death penalty remained in force for a range of crimes. No convictions or executions were reported.