The right of Omanis to peaceful assembly is “virtually non-existent in practice” a United Nations special rapporteur said on Saturday during a visit to the Gulf Arab monarchy, which detained hundreds in 2011 after quashing pro-democracy protests.
Oman, a U.S. ally which occupies one side of the narrow Strait of Hormuz, the world’s busiest oil shipping route, has an elected parliament but ultimate power rests in the hands of Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who has ruled since 1970.
“In my meetings with the government, I observed a consistent focus on maintaining peace, order and stability in Oman, often used as the rationale for limiting assembly and association rights,” said Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of peaceful assembly and association.
Kiai said at a news conference in the capital Muscat that he had also met activists who had been detained.
“All the people I spoke to who have been subjected to this harassment, stress that what they want is peaceful reform, not revolution,” Kiai’s preliminary report stated.
“Oman’s basic law (its constitution) guarantees the right to peaceful assembly…within the limits of the law. Unfortunately, based on the information I have gathered, these limits of the law are quite restrictive, to the point where they often annul the essence of the right,” he said.
“Gatherings of more than nine people, for example, require a de facto approval of the authorities. It seems that this permission procedure is purely administrative and can’t be contested before a court of law,” he said at a news conference.
“The basic law of Oman also establishes the right to form associations, but based on my observations this right is virtually non-existent in practice,” he said.
He said the government denied it had breached rights of peaceful assembly or association. Omani government officials were not immediately available to comment.