The government continued to detain and prosecute critics, activists and peaceful demonstrators. Migrant workers remained insufficiently protected against exploitation. Women continued to face discrimination in law and practice. The death penalty remained in force.
Authorities pursued their Omanization policy to replace foreign workers with nationals. In May, the sultan announced directives to create up to 32,000 jobs in the public sector following protests over unemployment.
In June, Oman, which had the slowest Covid-19 vaccination roll-out in the Gulf, accelerated its immunization drive. The Ministry of Health announced that persons with disabilities could receive the vaccine at home.
The government extended an amnesty scheme allowing free exit to migrant workers with illegal status until the end of August, without which they could face criminal and financial liabilities.
Freedom of expression
Freedom of expression remained severely curtailed. In February, the Internal Security Service arrested four environmental activists – Ahmed Issa Qatan, Salem Ali al-Maashani, Amer Bait Saeed and Salem Tabuk – for commenting on Twitter against a governmental decision banning camel grazing in the plain of Dhofar governorate, in prelude to construction of housing complexes. The Court of First Instance in Salalah city sentenced Salem al-Maashani to a suspended one-month prison term and a fine, Ahmed Qatan to a suspended six-month prison term and a fine, and Salem Tabuk to two months in prison and a fine, for “publishing information that harms public order”. Amer Saeed was acquitted.
In March, Oman blocked the social network app Clubhouse citing “lack of proper licence”. The app had gained traction during lockdown and become popular among activists.
In July, security forces arrested online activist Gaith al-Shebli, who initiated online discussions on Twitter on atheism, religion and freedom of speech. At least two others, a man and a woman, were arrested for engaging with him on Twitter and then released after signing pledges to stop such activity. In August, authorities detained Khamis al-Hatali for posting a video online criticizing the sultan and calling him an “oppressor”.
In December, the Ministry of Information shut down the radio programme All Questions following an interview with a member of the Shura Council (Consultative Assembly) who criticized the performance of the head of the council.
Freedom of assembly
Authorities responded to protests against unemployment and deteriorating economic conditions in May and June with arrests and use of force. In May, protests took place in several cities, including Sohar and Salalah. Videos posted online showed a heavy presence of security and military forces firing tear gas at protesters and arresting scores. Many were released the same day but others remained in custody for several days, including activist Ibrahim al-Baluchi. They were released after being made to sign pledges not to participate in future demonstrations.
In August, authorities arrested Talal al-Salmani after he submitted a request to organize a demonstration calling for the shutdown of liquor stores and posting online a related video. In October, a court of first instance sentenced him to a suspended six-month prison term and he was released.
Women continued to be denied full rights in law and in practice. Under the UPR process in January, Oman rejected recommendations to withdraw its remaining reservations to CEDAW, including those granting women equal rights with men in matters relating to the nationality of children, marriage, divorce and other family matters. It also rejected the recommendations to criminalize marital rape.
Furthermore, in the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law index for 2021, which ranks women’s economic opportunities, Oman ranked lower than the regional average, scoring 35.5 out of 100. It noted that women in Oman were especially disadvantaged in terms of mobility, parenthood and marriage.
Migrant workers continued to face abuse and exploitation due to insufficient protection, including poor living conditions, forced labour and human trafficking. Domestic workers, mostly women, faced long working days, home confinement and unpaid wages.
During the UPR process, Oman rejected recommendations to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
In June, the government extended its Covid-19 vaccination campaign to migrant workers; before this they had to pay for vaccines.
Courts continued to hand down the death penalty. No executions were reported.