Oman, dictatorship and US ally

This is called Protest in Oman; Police open fire to control the situation, 6 killed; SahilOnline Video.

Another report about a monarchy, invited to the London royal wedding.

By Kate Randall:

US State Department human rights reports

Gulf allies: A record of repression and torture

Part 5: Oman

29 April 2011

The US State Department recently released its “2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.” This year’s annual report provides details on human rights conditions in over 190 countries. Included are reports on the member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which represents the US-backed monarchies of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait.

This Saudi-dominated alliance backed the imposition of a no-fly zone in Libya, and has provided key support for the attack on Libya by the United States and European powers. The GCC has also provided military and police personnel to put down insurrections against the repressive regimes in Bahrain and Yemen.

While the US seeks to cloak its imperialist assault on Libya in “humanitarian” terms, its allies in the GCC are guilty of widespread violations of human rights and practice repression and torture in their own countries. This WSWS series examines these human rights abuses as documented in the State Department reports. This installment covers Oman. See our previous reports on Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait.

The Sultanate of Oman is an absolute, hereditary monarchy, ruled for the past 41 years by Sultan Qaboos al-Said. Political parties are banned. and the sultan has sole authority to amend the country’s laws through royal decree. An elected Majlis al-Shura (Consultative Council) serves as an advisory body only and has no legislative powers.

Oman has a population of about 3.3 million, of whom about 1 million are non-nationals. It is strategically located across the Arabian Sea from Iran and astride the Strait of Hormuz, through which Persian Gulf exports must travel. Oman’s proved reserves of petroleum total about 5.5 billion barrels, the 24th largest in the world.

The US has backed the authoritative Qaboos regime and has remained silent in recent months as the sultan’s security forces have fired on protesters. In one instance on February 27, police opened fire on a demonstration in the sheikdom’s largest industrial city, Sohar, killing at least six protesters who were demanding democratic rights, a representative legislature and jobs.

According to the US State Department’s report for 2010, “Principal human rights problems included the lack of consistent independent nongovernmental inspections of prisons and detention centers. Some restrictions on privacy and freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and religion remained, yet they were not universally applied.

Women faced societal discrimination, and instances of domestic violence were reported. There were also isolated reports that some employers placed expatriate laborers in situations indicative of forced labor or abuse.”

Police, prison and judicial procedures

The Royal Office, part of the sultan’s cabinet, controls all internal and external security as well as coordinates all intelligence and security policies. The Royal Oman Police (ROP), also part of the cabinet, provides security at points of entry and serves as the country’s immigration and customs agency.

There is no legal requirement that police obtain a warrant before making an arrest. Police are required to either release the person or refer the matter to the public prosecutor, who must formally arrest or release the person within 24 hours. Judges may, however, order detentions for 14 days for investigation and may grant extensions of detention. There were reports of authorities detaining without charge foreign workers suspected of being in the country illegally.

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the sultan may act as a court of final appeal. Principles of Sharia (Islamic law) inform civil commercial and criminal codes. There is no trial by jury.

Police are not required to obtain search warrants before entering homes, although they were frequently obtained from the public prosecutor’s office. The government closely monitors private communications, including cell phones, email, and Internet chat rooms.

The Ministry of Interior requires citizens to obtain permission to marry foreigners, unless they are nationals of Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Failure to obtain such approval may result in denial of entry for the foreign spouse or denial of citizenship rights for children.

No respect for civil liberties

Criticism of the sultan is prohibited in any form. The government bans “material that leads to public discord, violates the security of the state, or abuses a person’s dignity or his rights”; “messages of any form that violate public order and morals or are harmful to a person’s safety”; and “defamation of character.” Courts generally interpret these laws to mean that it is illegal to criticize or insult any public official.

Editorial opinion in the country’s eight privately owned newspapers—four Arabic, four English—was generally consistent with government views. The government owns four radio stations and two television stations and licensed one privately owned television station, and these also maintained a generally pro-government line. There was no regular international media presence.

Three authors remained barred in 2010 from public and media appearances on national security grounds: Abdullah al-Riyami, a poet and human rights activist; Mohamed al-Yahyai, a journalist and author; and Mohamed al-Harthy, an author and poet. Although the three subsequently received royal pardons, their activities remained restricted throughout the year.

The Ministry of Information reviews all media products and books, both those produced inside the country and those imported. Authorities banned from sale a range of literature, poetry and historical books prior to the Muscat International Book Fair.

An estimated 50 percent of the Oman population used the Internet, and the government enforced restrictions on free speech via this medium. The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority monitors Internet service providers, and authorities blocked some virtual private networks that were used in an attempt to circumvent censorship.

In an effort to promote self-censorship, the government placed warnings on websites informing users that criticism of the sultan or government officials would be censored and could lead to police questioning.

Lamhaa, an Indian film about the Kashmir conflict, was banned in July in all GCC countries. The Oman government banned Sex in the City 2 in May, citing inappropriate content.

The law provides for freedom of association only “for legitimate objectives and in a proper manner.” During 2010, the Council of Ministers prohibited numerous associations deemed “inimical to the social order” or otherwise inappropriate. Associations must also register with the Ministry of Social Development, which must approve association bylaws.

The average time for an association to receive approval and register was two years. Associations must get government approval to receive funding from an international group. Nationality-based associations were limited to one per nationality.

Germany calls on Bahrain to rescind death sentences: here.

20 thoughts on “Oman, dictatorship and US ally

  1. Only one woman wins in elections

    OMAN: Election results released today showed that only one woman had been elected to the kingdom’s Shura council.

    Nu’amah Bint Jamayel al-Busaidi was one of 77 women who stood for the 84-seat body in the first national vote since pro-democracy protests earlier this year.

    The country’s all-powerful Sultan Qaboos bin Said has promised greater powers for the council, which has so far only had the right to advise the monarch, but he has not revealed any specifics.


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