- Iraqi Kurdistan: Women Human Rights Defenders Challenging a Continuum of Violence
- Special Report: Torture in Saudi Arabia
- Silenced Voices: Judicial targeting of human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia
- Syrian Human Rights Defenders Losing Hope with International Community as Human Rights Violations Continue Unabated
- Qatar, civil society and human rights: Lack of civil society space hinders work of human rights defenders
News from International Organizations
- 26 Organizations Condemn the Imprisonment of Woman Human Rights Defender Zainab AlKhawaja and her 16 Month Old Baby
- Free Zainab Al-Khawaja and Baby
- ESOHR: The UN committee against torture publishes the report of final concluding observations on torture in Saudi Arabia.
- IFEX: Rights groups and cartoonists ask Iranian President Rouhani to help free artist Atena Farghadani
- UN HRC: 58 NGOs warn of harmful impact of “countering and preventing violent extremism”
Written by HRDs and Journalists
TORTURE IN OMAN
“I thought they were killing Said, and that I was next. I could hear beating and shouting. I didn’t want to die afraid; I wanted to be strong, honourable. I prayed and thought of my parents. I will never forget the sound of the sticks hitting him.” Basimah Al-Rajhi, human rights lawyer, speaking in October 2013.
In February 2013, 20 human rights organisations across the Arab world issued an appeal for the release of political detainees in Oman. This followed the conviction and imprisonment in 2012 of 35 human rights defenders for peaceful political activity. The charges brought against them, none of which are recognizable as crimes by international standards, included “defaming the Sultan”, “illegal gathering” and violations of cybercrimes laws. These convictions appear to be part of a campaign of reprisals ongoing in Oman, a campaign against those who peacefully organized for change, against those who in 2011 and 2012 advocated for social reform. In 2013 activists were still being targeted and subjected to intimidation and arrest by the security services for expressing ideas about the future of the country and for daring to speak out about those ideas. 
Torture has become the state’s knee jerk response to political expression. This report documents the arsenal of torture methods in use in Oman including mock execution, beating, hooding, solitary confinement, subjection to extremes of temperature and to constant noise, abuse and humiliation. These practices are allowed to flourish within a culture of arbitrary arrest and detention in secret institutions.
Human rights defenders who were detained in Oman told the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) that they were denied access to lawyers during their initial periods of custody and for many the first time they saw a lawyer was at court. Many were held in solitary confinement and incommunicado for months. Some expressed fear that by speaking to monitoring groups they would suffer further harassment but nevertheless felt that the situation was so serious that their experiences had to be told.
Many of them were deeply concerned by other tactics that were used, for example, the spreading of rumours to tarnish their reputations, which made it impossible to earn a living after being released from prison and to be accepted in society. In a conservative society such as Oman loss of reputation is a serious issue. They described how pressure is brought to bear on the family of the activist and how they were directed to bring their family member “into line.” Some were told they were no longer welcome in the country and have left Oman, leaving family and friends behind. In 2012 national media published pictures of the faces of activists, including some who were interviewed for the purpose of this report, who had been found guilty of insulting the Sultan. This is contrary to the normal practice of obscuring faces of anyone convicted of an offence in the press and was considered to be part of the strategy to discredit these people and publicly humiliate them.
Prison conditions were described as chaotic and abusive. The stories of injustice were multiple: foreign prisoners with no interpreters, missed appeal hearings, mentally ill inmates who had committed no crimes but were locked in cells 24 hours a day, some for years, children as young as 13 imprisoned for begging and kept with adult inmates, food with worms in it.
The prohibition of torture in international law is absolute and non-derogable. It is enshrined in a plethora of international instruments including the Arab Charter to which Oman is a signatory. There is also a guarantee against torture in Article 20 of its own constitution. Sultan Qaboos of Oman has the reputation of being a relatively benign leader but he is squandering this reputation by allowing torture to take place with impunity in state institutions. The practices described in this report such as keeping detainees in solitary confinement, hooding and subjecting them to extremes of temperature are so widespread and systematic that the government cannot be in ignorance of them and has an urgent duty to bring such practices to an end and to punish the perpetrators accordingly.
Over the past two years GCHR and other human rights organisations have documented the incidence of arbitrary arrest and detention and of ill treatment within state institutions. The government has failed to respond to these reports or to conduct impartial investigations into the allegations.
GCHR has monitored the human rights situation in Oman over the last two years and has issued 24 urgent appeals concerning cases of abuse of human rights defenders in the country. It therefore conducted a mission to Oman in October 2013 in order to research the incidence of torture of human rights defenders detained as a result of the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of speech and expression. The research was carried out over five days during which time a series of face-to-face interviews with 9 human rights defenders were conducted. Interviews were also held with campaigners who are currently living in the UK. The accounts of each of those interviewed were both internally consistent and consistent with one another. In undertaking the research, reference was made to reports of international organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and to reports in the national and international media, which further corroborated the findings. For all these reasons the researcher was left in no doubt that the accounts she was given were honest and, as far as the difficult circumstances of people in detention allow, accurate as to detail. The government in Oman does not support independent human rights monitoring in the country and therefore this report does not set out to be a comprehensive statement of the situation in Oman’s jails. It seeks simply to show that torture is commonplace in places of detention and is applied as a matter of course to those held as a result of being involved in campaigning for social reform since 2011.
Oman is a country in the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula. Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the ruler since 1970, has sole power to enact laws through royal decree. There are no political parties and there is no right to change the government. There is an advisory council the Majlis Al Dawla comprised of 83 members appointed by the Sultan and the Majlis Al-Shura made up of 84 members elected by the public. The Shura provides guidance only, but since the reforms of 2011, can draft and review legislation. 
Sultan Qaboos, who overthrew his father in 1970, is 73 years old and the longest serving ruler in the Middle East. There is a succession problem as he has no children and it is not known who will succeed him.
It is against the law to criticise the Sultan in any way in and in any medium. It is illegal to insult any public official. This restriction of freedom of speech and expression forms the basis of many of the arrests of human rights defenders. A total of 35 people were imprisoned for insulting the Sultan in 2012 and 3 of them received an extra six-month sentence for posting criticisms on social media platforms.
Social reform protests in Oman
On the 17 January 2011, three days after the success of the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, unprecedented protests began in Oman when crowds gathered outside the housing ministry in Muscat to demand, amongst other things, an end to corruption in public life.
The protests were given momentum by a national teachers’ strike in February 2011, which closed the majority of schools across the country. The teachers demanded better working conditions and higher standards in education. Protests spread across the country with the first of the so-called “Green Marches” taking place on 8 and 18 of February followed by protests in Dhofar to the south and Sohar in the north.
On 27 February 2011 the security services responded to the protests in Sohar with force, killing a bystander, Abdullal Al-Ghamlasi, a 36-year-old property developer.
The protests continued in Sohar, around the focal Globe Roundabout area. The demands focused on unemployment. Oman has one of the highest unemployment levels in the Gulf region of approximately 15% and youth unemployment is especially high at around 19%. Unemployment is closely linked to a lack of further education with only 6 % of Omanis having an undergraduate degree and 1% a higher degree. 60% of the labour force is made up of foreign workers.
By mid March 2011 there were strikes in oil refineries in Muscat and Sohar. The protests in Sohar continued to grow and on the 28 March were put down again with force. The army moved into the Globe Roundabout area and cleared the protesters arresting many people from the surrounding area. The army maintained control over the town until 9 April. During this time a series of sit-ins were organized around the country including in Muscat outside the Shura Council, in Sur and Salalah. The demands continued to be not for revolution but for reform and an end to corruption and for the release of those who had been arrested and detained in secret detention centres.
The protests, and strikes, continued sporadically in 2012. Some of these were again put down violently with the use of tear gas and rubber bullets. In May 2012 the authorities arrested activists, writers and bloggers who criticized the government and more than 30 were sentenced to over 12 months in prison for charges such as defaming the Sultan.
In 2013, protests continued against the government with increasing intensity. For example, in the summer of 2013 there were mass protests in Liwa, North West Oman, against the ecological degradation and consequent significant health problems caused by the oil refineries, aluminium smelting and mining in close proximity to the town. The police used tear gas to disperse the demonstrations.
Several people were injured including the elected Shura Council member, Talib Al-Maamari. Al-Maamari had supported the residents and spoken at large gatherings.
He is now serving a four-year sentence for defaming the country, banditry and illegal gathering. Saqr Al-Bulushi, an elected member of the Municipal council who also supported the campaign was imprisoned for banditry and illegal gathering.
The Government made some positive responses in 2011 to the first pro reform protests in Oman such as a pledge to implement economic and political reforms, the granting of legislative regulatory powers to the Majlis Al-Shura and the introduction of unemployment benefits. Further plans were outlined in February 2013 to limit the number of foreign workers and to increase the minimum wage. However, there is international concern that Oman is struggling to meet the state budget and to generate employment for Omani citizens.
TORTURE AND ILL-TREATMENT.
“At the police station I was asked to wait in a room as a senior officer wanted to talk to me. I waited but then six men came into the room, all hooded and carrying guns. They cuffed my hands roughly behind my back, shouting at me and took my glasses, my hat. They placed a long knee length black hood over me….” Khalfan Al-Badwawi, social activist speaking in October 2013.
All of the male detainees interviewed for the purpose of this report described a similar range of abuses carried out by public officials against them while they were in detention. These include hooding, subjection to loud music played 24 hours a day, sleep deprivation, and exposure to extremes of temperature. Three detainees told GCHR of incidents of kidnapping by security services. One described severe beatings and mock execution.
Hooding is recognized as a form of torture and or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by international and regional human rights bodies. The United Nations Committee Against Torture has stated that hooding in certain circumstances constitutes torture, in particular when used in conjunction with other coercive techniques such as subjection to loud music and extreme temperatures, which occurred in these cases. The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have also condemned the practice.
Detained human rights defenders were also subject to other forms of ill treatment including prolonged solitary confinement, which can in certain circumstances amount to torture, prolonged interrogation, prolonged handcuffing, verbal abuse and threats.
Several said that they were coerced into signing confessions or into making false statements. One said that his children’s future was threatened unless he ceased his political activities.
1. Khalfan Al-Badwawi
Khalfan Al-Badwawi has been targeted and arbitrarily detained by the security services on four occasions, including on two occasions in 2013. He was warned to cease all political activity.
On 6th June 2012 he was arbitrarily detained for 32 days in the conditions set out below, before being charged with defaming the Sultan and remanded in custody. He was dismissed from his job and is now unable to find work, as no one is willing to employ him, he believes, for fear of being associated with an activist.
He is therefore dependent on the good will of friends and family. In December 2013 he left Oman as he fears for his safety.
Al-Badwawi is an engineer by training with a degree in Occupational Health and Safety Management and had worked in Sohar since 2008. He had not been involved with the protests until after the security services shot and killed a bystander Abdullal Al-Ghamlasi on 27 March 2011. His anger at this event led to him to start attending the protests.
On 28 March 2011 the army put down the protest with excessive force, clearing the roundabout area by use of tear gas and rubber bullets. Al-Badwawi was pulled from his car, verbally abused and beaten with batons. He was handcuffed and hooded. He said that they arrested hundreds of people on that occasion, anyone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. This included an elderly man who was sitting outside his house and a retired couple.
He was kept hooded and with his hands handcuffed to the floor during the three hour journey to Sam’ai Central Security Station in Muscat where 50 to 60 of them were kept in one room, with no beds and with inadequate food.
They were aggressively interrogated everyday for one week before being released without charge.
This experience caused him to become involved as an organizer of the protests and in an information campaign communicating and discussing with others about social reform through the use of Facebook and Twitter. In the second week of May 2012, he helped call for a demonstration in front of the City Seasons Hotel in Muscat in support of a strike by oil industry workers. During the peaceful demonstration, police spoke to him directly and he noticed that they used his name.
They also spoke to and named Ismail Al-Muqbali, Habiba Al-Hanai and Yaqoub Al-Kharousi, all founding members of the Omani Group for Human Rights. These three activists were kidnapped and detained by security services the following day. The details of this incident are provided below. 
In the weeks after this demonstration individual protesters were approached and asked to appear for interview with the police. On 6 June 2012, Al-Badwawi was asked to appear for the purpose of a short interview. He said he had respect for the police and so was happy to comply with the request.
At the police station he was asked to wait in a room as a senior officer wanted to talk to him. He did this and six men came into the room, all hooded and carrying guns. They cuffed his hands roughly behind his back, shouting at him and took his glasses, his hat. They placed a long knee length black hood over him.
He was taken on a short car journey to an unknown location and then left in a small locked room. The hood was removed. The light in the room was strong and stayed on all the time. The air conditioning was turned on fiercely. Loud civic music was played constantly. He was there for 32 days with no contact with the outside world. He was not allowed to see anyone’s face. They placed a hood over his head in order to take him to the bathroom and he had no privacy there. He started to restrict the water he drank, as he did not want to have to call them to be taken to the bathroom. He was repeatedly aggressively interrogated over long periods of time.
He was afraid. He had not been charged with anything and did not know how long they would keep him there or what would happen next.
After about a week he was allowed to contact his father briefly but apart from that he was allowed no communication with family, friends or legal representatives.
After 32 days he was then transferred to the state prosecutor’s office and charged with seeking to overthrow the system, a charge punishable by death or alternatively life imprisonment.
Al-Badwawi was then moved to a public police station. He says however that the conditions were worse there: the light was stronger, the temperature colder but the questioning had ceased.
He was kept there for 23 days before being taken to court. At this stage the charge was changed to “insulting the Sultan”. He was appointed a duty lawyer who made submissions about the allegations of torture and inhumane treatment.
The judge refused to consider the matter or to order an investigation into the allegations.
The trial was adjourned 14 times before he was finally released on bail on 12th September. Sultan Qaboos announced an amnesty on 31 March 2013 for all those charged in the case.
On the 16th March 2013 however, while the first case was still current, Al-Badwawi was again arbitrarily detained. On this occasion his car was forced to a halt by 4 unmarked vehicles on a road in the capital, Muscat. He was surrounded and dragged from the car by hooded men. He was then himself hooded and taken to a detention centre. He was held incommunicado in solitary confinement for five days before being released without charge.
On 7th November 2013 Al-Badwawi was again arbitrarily arrested for the fourth time and held incommunicado overnight at an undisclosed location. Al-Badwawi left Oman in December 2013 as he fears for his safety.
2. Basima Al-Rajhi
Basima Al-Rajhi was the presenter of a popular national radio current affairs programme called “Don’t Turn the Page”. She too had become peacefully involved in the protests in 2011 in response to the excessive violence employed by state authorities against peaceful protestors. She has found that she is no longer welcome in broadcasting since this time. Her family continues to suffer intimidation by the security services. In October 2013, for example, two officers went to her sister’s place of work and questioned her as to whether her sister “had learnt her lesson?”
Al-Rajhi has been subjected to some of the most serious abuse in Oman. She has been kidnapped and beaten. She has been arrested and convicted of illegal gathering in 2012 as a result of which she served a 4 months prison sentence. GCHR believes this sentence was imposed solely for her legitimate expression of opinion and assembly.
On 8 April 2011, she and another activist Said Al-Hashemi were kidnapped by security services and tortured including being subject to a mock execution.
As they were driving back to Muscat from a protest through the desert a taxi pulled out and blocked the road ahead forcing them to stop. Approximately 10 men got out of a vehicle ahead and a vehicle behind and pulled them from their car. They were knocked to the ground, their faces in the sand. Someone knelt on Al-Rajhi’s back and strapped her hands together with plastic tape.
She described what happened next in the following terms:
“They covered my eyes and mouth with their hands and I was put violently into the van. Said was already in there. I was kicked in the back and then hooded. Two men stayed in the back with us. It was difficult to breath with the hood on as I have asthma. They searched me, aggressively and physically. They wanted me to be very scared. I was holding my scarf; they were trying to pull it off. They didn’t speak at all. One pulled the hood up and blew on my face. It was horrible. I could see him shaking.
We were driven some distance. I assumed we were going to a police station but when we stopped we were somewhere remote and scrubby. I could feel thistles. I think there were two men there. I could hear shouting in the distance. It must have been about 8 o’clock and it was totally dark.
I thought they were killing Said and that I was next. I could hear beating and shouting. I didn’t want to die afraid; I wanted to be strong, honourable. I prayed and thought of my parents. I will never forget the sound of the sticks hitting him.
They took the hood off and then put tape around my eyes and mouth and put me face down on the floor. Then they moved me. Then someone stood on me and they beat me with sticks and abused me.
The tape started to come off my mouth and someone slapped my face and they put cloth and the hood over my face. I didn’t scream, I didn’t want them to win. I said ‘I forgive you’ but then they were ordered to do it again.”
She was thrown back in the van, her head hitting it hard. Said was in the van but unconscious. It was later discovered that he had three broken vertebrae. At some point they threw him out of the van and she was alone. She was then pulled out of the van by the legs further along, pushed down the bank and left in the desert. Her hands were cut from climbing back up to the road.
Eventually a car stopped and she was taken to hospital. News of the kidnapping came out on the Internet at about 8.20 that evening.
At the hospital, after she had been examined and her bruising had been photographed, they insisted that they needed to do a virginity test. Al-Rajhi challenged this but was told it had to be done in case she had been raped. This was a humiliating and abusive experience.
3. Ismail Al-Mugbali
Ismail Al-Muqbali has been detained three times for his campaigning activities: in 2011 he was twice held in solitary confinement, for 11 days and 4 days respectively, and the third time in 2012 he was held for three months, including one month in solitary confinement. He was charged with incitement to protest.
Al-Muqbali estimates that approximately 200 people were arrested in 2012 in relation to the protests of the previous year, 40 of whom were brought to court. In his case a group of 12 people were arrested and accused of setting up an opposition group, an offence punishable by death or alternatively life imprisonment. The 12 included Ismail Al-Muqbali, Khalfan Al-Badwawi, Muktar Al-Hanaei and Mohamed Al-Fazari. They had formed a group of contacts on the communications application, “What’s App” in order to discuss the protests and to organize attendance but beyond that were not an “organization.”
This series of arrests began on 31 May 2012, when the Special Division of the Omani Police detained Al-Muqbali and two other human rights defenders, Habiba Al-Hina’i and Yaqoub Al-Kharousi, who attempted to travel to Fohoud oil field, approximately 250 km southwest of Muscat, to document an oil workers’ strike that had started a week earlier. When they got there, there was no strike. They spoke to some workers who said they were afraid of being beaten by the security services who were in the area. The security services appeared and started photographing them so they decided to return to Muscat. Thirty kilometers into the journey, they were stopped by police, who took away their papers, handcuffed them to the floor of a police vehicle and took them to Muscat. They were held incommunicado for five days before being allowed to contact their families. Al-Hina’i and Al-Kharousi were released leaving Al-Muqbali detained on charges of inciting a protest.
On the 2, 8 and 11 June 2012 another 30 people were arrested including lawyers, writers and bloggers for protesting and calling for the release of those previously detained.
Al-Muqbali describes his detention in the following terms:
“I spent one week in complete isolation. After that I was taken to an internal intelligence place. The tone of the questions had changed. It seemed very serious.
I was kept there for one month. It was a very small room; the light was on 24 hours a day. The air conditioning was turned on very high. There was very loud music. I was hooded to be taken to the bathroom so that I never saw anyone’s face. I was questioned everyday and then eventually charged with forming an opposition group. This was punishable by the death penalty.
After one month I was moved to the central prison. I was shown press coverage of the case. Our faces, ages and professions were published in the newspapers and on the television. They said we were bad people.
After a couple of months I began to hear about other people being arrested. I was so worried about them. We were treated like terrorists not normal prisoners. Some of them were very young, in their early twenties, one was still a teenager.
We had no access to lawyer; the first time I saw a lawyer was at the first court hearing.”
After that hearing they were moved to 12 separate police stations so that they could not have contact with each other. Again here they were hooded to be taken to the bathroom. On some occasions when the hood was on they were made to run around in circles until they lost their balance. On some occasions they were left in the interrogation room alone for a whole day.
Al-Muqbali was released on bail on 12 September 2012. He found it hard to sleep because he had strong feelings for those who were still imprisoned, knowing what they were going through.
He was pardoned by the Sultan in April 2013.
. Mohamed Al-Fazari
4. Mohamed Al- Fazari was also one of the 12 in the group above. He was also part of a second group of 11 detained human rights defenders, which included the lawyer Basimah Al-Kiyumi mentioned below.
He is still a student and is 22 years old. After his arrest on 11 June 2012 for insulting the Sultan, illegal gathering and for obstructing the highway he was subjected to the same conditions as Ismail Al-Muqbali. He gave a similar description of the small cells, the harsh temperature, the loud music, the hooding and the aggressive interrogations. He said that he was kept in solitary confinement for 27 days at the internal security detention centre, followed by a further 24 days of solitary confinement at a public prison. He was then moved to the central prison at Sama’il. He described conditions in the prison as horrible with rats running around and dirty, oily food. It was very overcrowded with 35 people crammed into rooms designed for 15. Political and criminal prisoners were mixed together. There were no windows and the smell was appalling from the toilets that were overflowing.
He was acquitted on appeal for the obstruction charge and pardoned for the others.
On 6 June 2013, Al-Fazari started an online magazine called “Mowatin” (Citizen). It is as the name suggests concerned with social justice and any issues related to citizenship. He says that the main issues of concern are that there should be a new constitution in the country recognizing the separation of powers, an elected legislature and an end to corruption.
Al-Fazari was arrested again in October 2013 and told to close the magazine. They said that next time they arrest him they would not let him go. He intends to carry on with the magazine, explaining that he believes passionately in the freedom of expression and in the possibility of a better Oman.
5. Basmah Al-Kiyumi
Basmah Al-Kiyumi is a lawyer and activist who has been arrested twice because of her peaceful campaigning, once in May 2011 and then again on 11 June 2012 during a protest outside Muscat police station calling for the release of other detained human rights defenders.
On the second occasion she was arrested with 10 others, including Basimah Al-Rajhi, mentioned above, and detained for two weeks before being bailed. She was convicted of illegal gathering under article 137 of the Penal Code on 8th August 2012 and served a four-month sentence before being released on a technical appeal. In February 2013 she and Al-Rajhi went on hunger strike for two weeks in protest at delays in the appeal process.
During the initial period of detention the two women were ordered to remove their clothes in front of staff and prisoners in order to be searched. They refused and a male officer ordered a policewoman to undress and search the women but she refused.
During the first two weeks of detention she had a serious asthma attack but was denied treatment. Only when the other inmates carried her to the central offices, did they agree to take her to hospital where she received some basic care.
6. Dr Al-Azri
Dr Al-Azri is a doctor and the director of a microbiology programme in the Omani Health service, employed by the Ministry of Health. In April 2013 he was arbitrarily detained for six days at a security service centre. He again is someone who supported the protests, after the initial period, in protest at the government responses and began writing his views on social media platforms. He said, “I was just trying to educate people about their rights.”
During his detention he was subjected to the same techniques as those set out above. He was handcuffed, hooded and kept in solitary confinement with loud music and strong light 24 hours a day. He did not know where he was being held. During his interrogation he was threatened that unless he signed a confession they would say that he was in Al Qaeda. They confiscated his computer and laptop.
“They were trying to frame me. They showed me Facebook posts I hadn’t written criticizing the Sultan. I went on hunger strike the whole time I was there. I collapsed and was taken to hospital. I refused IV fluids. I knew my rights. What is happening in Oman is against human rights.”
7. Saeed Jadad
Saeed Jadad from Salalah is a long-standing prominent human rights defender. When he was visiting Muscat on 14 January 2013 the security services called him in to talk to them. They held him for eight days. He described the same regime of hooding, cuffing, interrogation, no window in the room where he was being held, and no contact with the outside world. Jadad had spoken at rallies during 2011 and called for reform. The interrogation in February 2013 recalled these meetings. The interrogators threatened him saying: “if you stop you can have a normal life, if not you should worry about your children’s future.”
LEGAL MONITORING OF THE PERIODS OF DETENTION
All of the human rights defenders interviewed told the GCHR that they were denied access to lawyers while they were in pre charge detention. They were charged in the latter stages of their detention and given access to legal advice at their first court appearance. The court has refused to hear complaints of torture and ill treatment during these hearings or to order investigations into the complaints. During the trial of the group of 11 including Basimah Al-Kiyumi and Mohamed Al-Fazari, there was no consistency of tribunal, the judge changed after the first two hearings and then once more in the course of the trial. This meant that the final judge had not heard all the evidence. Several of those detained described the final judge as very young and inexperienced.
The National Human Rights Commission of the Sultanate Of Oman was formed by Royal Decree in 2008. Its members are appointed directly by the Sultan. A delegation visited activists on hunger strike in Sam’ail Central Prison in February 2013 and called on them to end the strike. They reported no concerns about the treatment of political prisoners.
International law standards and best practice require that where an allegation of torture is made, the state should proceed to a prompt and impartial enquiry. A commission appointed by the state is not therefore sufficient.
THE LAW ON TORTURE
The prohibition against torture in international law is set out in Article 1 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) and Articles 7 and 10 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
UNCAT sets out in Article 1 that:
'torture' means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
While Oman is not a party to UNCAT and the ICCPR, the treaties constitute authoritative sources and guidelines reflecting international best practice. Oman, has however, acceded to the Arab Charter in 2004 which prohibits torture:
1. No one shall be subjected to physical or psychological torture or to cruel, degrading, humiliating or inhuman treatment.
2. Each State party shall protect every individual subject to its jurisdiction from such practices and shall take effective measures to prevent them. The commission of, or participation in, such acts shall be regarded as crimes that are punishable by law and not subject to any statute of limitations. Each State party shall guarantee in its legal system redress for any victim of torture and the right to rehabilitation and compensation.
There is a constitutional guarantee against torture in Article 20 of the Omani Constitution:
No person shall be subjected to physical or psychological torture, enticement or humiliating treatment, and the Law lays down the punishment for anyone who is guilty of such actions. No statement shall be valid if it is established that it has been obtained as a result of torture, enticement or humiliating treatment, or threats of such measures.
THE LAW ON ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCES
The United Nations International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance holds that enforced disappearance is said to have occurred when a person is arrested, detained or abducted by state agents or on behalf of them, who then deny that that person is being held or conceal their whereabouts thus placing them outside the protection of the law. There are numerous examples of this set out in the testimonies set out in this report.
By virtue of article 11 of the convention enforced disappearance constitutes an international crime. This crime is particularly cruel as it not only violates the victim, who is often in constant fear for their life, but also affects and traumatises the families of the disappeared and has a chilling effect on the preparedness of communities to engage in legitimate political activity.
While Oman is not a signatory to the Convention in its Universal Periodic Review before the Human Rights Council it stated that it would examine recommendations made by various Member States to accede to the Convention.
THE LAW ON ARBITRARY ARRESTS AND DETENTION
Omani Basic Law guarantees under article 24 that, “Anyone who is detained or imprisoned is to be told the reasons of his detention immediately, and the individual is to have the right to contact whom they please and inform them of their detention, or seek council as is permitted by law…”
Furthermore the Arab Charter on Human Rights, to which Oman is a signatory, guarantees Article 14(2-3) :
that no one shall be deprived of liberty except on such grounds and in such circumstances as are determined by law, and that anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, in a language the person understands, of the reasons and shall be promptly informed of any charges against them, and that the person is entitled to contact family members. Likewise, article 14(5) stipulates that anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release.
The United Nations Principles on the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment set out standards that are based on the international conventions against torture and other ill treatment.
Article 21(1) provides that authorities may not take undue advantage of the situation of a detained or imprisoned person for the purpose of compelling him to confess, to incriminate himself otherwise or to testify against any other person”,
And in article 21 (2) that “authorities may not use violence, threats, and other interrogation methods that undermine detainees’ decision-making process and judgment.
RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE GOVERNMENT OF OMAN
- Issue orders to security services to end arbitrary arrests in Oman forthwith.
- Ensure an immediate end to detention in secret locations in which detainees are beyond the protection of the law.
- Establish forthwith an impartial investigation into all allegations of abuse of detainees and publish the results of such enquiry.
- Immediately release from custody and drop charges against all persons arbitrarily detained, particularly those arrested for the peaceful exercise of their fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression, association, and assembly.
- Issue a standing invitation to relevant United Nations mechanisms including the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to visit Oman.
- Ensure that all arrests, detention and trials are conducted in complaisance with international standards and that fair procedures are guaranteed at all times.
 article 126 of the Penal Code.
 Article 137 of the Penal Code.
 For further information see ‘Law of Torture’ section page 17
 This report was researched and written by Melanie Gingell, edited by Lisa O Higgins and translated into Arabic by Riham Abuaita.
 http://www.cpt.coe.int/documents/tur/2002-08-inf- eng.htm. And Urrutia v. Guatemala, 2003 Inter-Am. Ct. H.R. (ser. C) No. 103, 58.6, 94 (Nov. 27, 2003).
 See page 13
 Article 12 UNCAT
 United Nations Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Oman A/HRC/17/7. 24 March 2011
 Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, G.A. res. 43/173, annex, 43 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 298, U.N. Doc. A/43/49 (1988).