Authorities continued to detain and prosecute people who expressed views critical of the government’s actions and decisions or religious beliefs deemed to be outside official Islamic practices. Migrant workers continued to face exploitation, forced labour and harsh working conditions. Women continued to face discrimination in law and practice, in the domestic and professional spheres. Some progress towards climate change policies was made.
Authorities continued to pursue their Omanization policy, with an increased rate of replacing foreign workers with nationals. In July, Oman banned foreign nationals from working in 207 professions.
Freedom of expression
The authorities continued to be intolerant of voices critical of the government’s actions and decisions. On 4 August, Ahmed Issa Qattan, an environmental activist, was detained for a second time in 18 months and charged for commenting on Twitter against a governmental decision banning camel grazing in the plain of Dhofar governorate in preparation for construction of housing complexes. He began a hunger strike to protest against his detention and was released on bail on 16 August.
In late August, activists reported the arrest of three men who had begun a peaceful sit-in in the capital, Muscat, calling for reforms, including an end to government corruption and improved social benefits. Security forces arrested them a few hours into their sit-in and after their announcement video went viral. Their whereabouts were unknown until their release on bail on 20 October. On 27 October, a court convicted one of the men, Hani Al-Sarhani, to one year in prison under articles 123 and 115 of the Penal Code for what it stated were acts of “undermining the prestige of the state” and calling for a gathering.
On 30 October, a royal decree was issued to expand on article 97 of the Penal Code which stipulates that challenging the rights and prerogatives of the Sultan, his wife, heir apparent or his children or dishonouring their person is punishable by at least three years’ imprisonment.
Freedom of religion and belief
Authorities continued to use Article 269 of the Penal Code to prosecute people for actions the authorities characterize as hostile to Islam or denigrating of Islamic values.
On 7 June, a court in north Oman convicted two of four people arrested between 24 July and 2 August 2021 based solely on their online discussions and private messages on issues related to freedom of thought, religion and atheism. The court sentenced Maryam al-Nuaimi to three years in prison and Ali al-Ghafri to five years. It referred the case against Abdullah Hassan to the Specialized Court for review and acquitted Ghaith al-Shibli.
Authorities took no steps to reform the kafala sponsorship system that facilitates abuses of migrant workers, nor to become a party to the 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
Despite short-term waivers of fines and reduction of fees for residency and work permit processes and delays, migrant workers continued to face exploitation, forced labour and harsh working conditions. These conditions included long working days of 16 to 20 hours and unpaid wages, without the ability to end their employment because their employer held their travel documents.
In late March, 14 migrant workers died and five others were injured in a rockslide while working at a quarry in Ibri, Al-Dhahira governorate. Despite calls from the General Federation of Oman Workers for authorities to urgently investigate the company’s failures leading to the incident, no information regarding such steps was made public.
Oman failed to take steps to end discrimination against women despite civil society’s increased demands for equal rights for women, including with respect to marriage, divorce, inheritance, nationality and child custody, and restrictions on movement and on the type of work allowed. Abortion continued to be criminalized.
The authorities finally designated a hotline for reporting domestic violence, including child abuse, following a campaign by activists, but they again failed to pass laws that define domestic violence or take steps to establish formal shelters, rendering access to protection non-existent.
Failure to tackle climate crisis
Oman began to update climate affairs regulations, draft a national strategy that includes a climate change law, and establish a national database to monitor commitments made in 2021 on reducing carbon emissions by 7% by 2030.