Members of two tribes continued to be denied equal access to economic and social rights. New restrictions on freedom of expression were introduced and several journalists and writers were harassed by the authorities. Women were subject to discrimination in law and practice.
In November, Sultan Qaboos issued Decree No. 124/2008 to provide for the establishment of a National Human Rights Commission, which would exercise its functions independently of but be affiliated to the Majlis al-Dawla, the upper legislative house. The Commission had not commenced operation by the end of the year.
In December, Oman abstained on a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.
"Several journalists and writers were harassed for criticizing government..."
Discrimination – Aal Tawayya and Aal Khalifayn tribes
People belonging to the Aal Tawayya and Aal Khalifayn tribes continued to suffer adverse economic and social consequences following the Interior Ministry’s 2006 decision to change the name of the tribes and affiliate them to al-Harithi, another tribe, effectively reducing their status to that of akhdam, or servants, of the main tribe. The two tribes sought to overturn the Ministry’s decision but the Court of Administrative Judiciary held that it was a sovereign act beyond judicial scrutiny. In October, the government said that it had addressed the two tribes’ grievances but no changes were known to have been made. Members of both tribes continued to face problems when seeking to renew identity cards, which are essential for registering businesses, obtaining travel documents and settling matters such as divorce and inheritance.
Freedom of expression
New measures were introduced which further restricted freedom of expression. Several journalists and writers were harassed for criticizing government policies and public services. Article 61 of the Communications Law, previously amended in 2007, was again amended in April to tighten restrictions on the use of means of communication for certain activities, including some which could constitute legitimate exercise of freedom of expression. The new amendments also extended criminal liability to those operating communication facilities and services, such as websites. Confidential government instructions relating to a popular phone-in radio programme, which were leaked and widely publicized, included directives to move from live to pre-recorded broadcasting and exclude calls about military, security or judicial matters or concerning the head of state.
Several journalists and writers were questioned by the Public Prosecution or harassed for criticizing the government, including the role of the Ministry of Labour in seeking wage cuts and deteriorating conditions for workers employed at the port of Salala.
- ‘Ali al-Zuwaydi, a writer for the Sublat Oman forums news website, was questioned by the Public Prosecution about an article which accused the main state-owned telecommunications company of administrative and financial mismanagement. He was released after questioning.
Women continued to face discrimination in law and practice, including in relation to personal status, employment and their subordination to male guardians. In November, however, the government announced that it had amended the law on acquisition of government-owned land for housing to give women equal rights with men.