Geneva – The recent issuance of a royal decree in Oman to amend certain provisions of the Omani Penal Law is concerning, as it could be used to restrict freedom of expression and limit criticism of the ruling authorities, Euro-Med Monitor said in a statement.

On 20 October, Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tarik issued Royal Decree No. 68/2022, amending provisions of the Penal Law to include imposing prison sentences on those who publish content attacking the Sultan, his authority, his family, or the Crown Prince.

According to the new amendment to Article 97 of the Omani Penal Law: “Whoever commits, publicly or through publication, a challenge to the rights of the Sultan, His prerogatives, or disgraces His person, shall be punished by imprisonment for a period no less than 3 (three) years and not exceeding 7 (seven) years. Whoever challenges, publicly or through publication, the wife of the Sultan, His crown prince, and His children or disgraces their person shall be punished by the same punishment”.

   The new amendment is an extension of broad Omani laws that restrict freedom of expression, assembly, and association   

Euro-Med Monitor expressed concern over the imposition of a prison sentence for individuals who publish materials related to the sultan and the ruling regime. Historically, the broad formulation of provisions, and the failure to define the meaning of such terms as “publishing a challenge” or “disgraces his person”, means limiting any criticism of the sultan, his authority, or the ruling regime—a clear violation of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Mandated officials are not supposed to be immune from criticism and performance evaluation; any restriction on this signifies a lack of transparency and good governance standards, as well as an infringement on the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Relevant international standards do not allow restrictions on the content of freedom of expression except in rare cases, such as defamation against individuals who are not public figures, hate speech, or any speech inciting imminent violence.

The new amendment is an extension of broad Omani laws that restrict freedom of expression, assembly, and association, and are used to legitimise the targeting of peaceful activists, journalists, bloggers, and dissidents through arbitrary detention and unfair trials.

Oman amended its Penal Law in 2018 to further restrict rights and freedoms in the country, particularly freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. In recent years, Omani authorities have used the Omani Telecommunications Regulatory Law of 2022 and the Cyber Crime Law of 2011 to restrict freedom of expression and prosecute activists, journalists, and dissidents, punishing them with imprisonment, travel bans, threats, and other forms of arbitrary punishment.

Omani authorities must review and cancel any restrictions that limit or criminalise the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including criticism and peaceful protest, and provide assurances that the public’s right to freely express their opinion—including criticism of the authorities and the government with all its institutions—is respected, as it is a right and not a crime.

The Sultanate of Oman should ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its two optional protocols, as well as revise its legislation to ensure compliance with relevant international conventions and treaties.