Freedom in the World
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Oman is a hereditary monarchy, and power is concentrated in the hands of Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said, who has ruled since 1970. The regime imposes limits on virtually all political rights and civil liberties, and responds particularly harshly to criticism and dissent.
- Authorities arrested and imprisoned several human rights activists, intellectuals, and ordinary citizens for expressing views that criticized or were deemed threatening to the regime.
- In July and August, authorities arrested two editors and a journalist from the Al-Zaman newspaper in connection to articles about state interference in the judiciary; all three received prison sentences and fines in a trial in September, with the presiding judge also ordering the closure of the paper.
- In December, an appeals court reversed the closure of Al-Zaman and acquitted one of the defendants.
Oman’s lagging economy and budget deficit contributed to heightened political tensions in 2016, particularly as the government took steps to reduce or eliminate longstanding social and economic programs. Activists and critics of the regime were vocal during the year about corruption and mismanagement of state resources, and used both the traditional press and online platforms to express their views. In this tense environment, state authorities stepped up efforts to silence voices that criticized or were otherwise deemed a threat to the regime.
The most notable case of the year involved the Al-Zaman newspaper, which in July published two reports alleging that under state pressure, the head of Oman’s Supreme Court had directly influenced the outcome of a high-profile inheritance dispute. In July and August, authorities arrested two editors and a journalist working for the paper, charging them with vaguely defined offenses that included undermining state prestige, disrupting public order, and misusing the internet. The Ministry of Information also ordered that Al-Zaman cease operations. A court in September confirmed the closure and convicted all three individuals, although an appeals court in December acquitted the journalist, reduced the prison sentences of the two editors, and reversed the paper’s closure.
In a number of separate cases, authorities prosecuted activists, intellectuals, and ordinary citizens for exercising freedom of expression in the press or on social media platforms. In November, an appeals court upheld a fine and a one-year prison sentence against Said Jaddad, an activist, for inciting discord and threatening national unity in a blog post about a 2011 uprising. In April, authorities arrested Abdullah Habib, a prominent intellectual, and held him incommunicado for several weeks. Watchdogs noted that the arrest was likely connected to Habib’s Facebook posts about the 2011 and other uprisings in Oman.
Additional Discretionary Political Rights Question A 2/4
1. Is there a non-elected legislature that advises the monarch on policy issues?
2. Are there formal mechanisms for individuals or civic groups to speak with or petition the monarch?
3. Does the monarch take petitions from the public under serious consideration?
This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Oman, see Freedom in the World 2016.