“The State of Emergency Law in Oman: Setback to Public and Individual Freedoms

Emergency laws are among the most contentious legislations due to their potential for human rights violations during crises. They involve the transfer of civil authority to military or security forces, leading to the imposition of various mechanisms that translate into restrictions on public and individual freedoms. These may include movement constraints, surveillance of individuals and groups regardless of privacy considerations, as well as seizing control of certain facilities or confiscating assets and properties.

International laws aim to provide a practical framework to ensure the protection of individuals and groups during emergencies and to prevent rights violations. For instance, Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights allows covenant member states some measures during emergencies that deviate from covenant conditions.

On March 3, 2024, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq of Oman issued Royal Decree No. 13/2024 amending some provisions of the previous State of Emergency Law issued in 2008 (Law No. 75/2008). Among the amendments introduced by the current decree is the expansion of the powers of the National Security Council to 15 competencies, whereas it was previously limited to only 8 competencies in the 2008 decree.

On the night of the former Sultan Qaboos bin Said’s death, Omanis were surprised to find military armored vehicles deployed in several Omani cities, with vehicular movement restricted in several areas, without any official announcement made through Omani media channels. Similarly, in February 2011, during a month witnessing widespread protests in several Omani cities, authorities exercised measures somewhat akin to those outlined in the State of Emergency Law, particularly under Article 4, Section 1, which allows for restrictions on individuals’ movement, arrests of suspects, and searches of premises without the need to adhere to provisions of criminal law or any other laws.

Article 4, Section 1, was fully enforced during the protests in 2011, as well as in 2012 and the protests witnessed in the country in 2021. Security authorities conducted raids on numerous private residences, arresting suspects based on “security descriptions,” alongside searches conducted without any legal procedures according to criminal law. Additionally, security authorities engaged in the abduction of several activists from public places such as cafes, markets, and even workplaces, or even through vehicle ambushes, whereby authorities would stop the vehicle of the wanted individual, arrest them, and restrain them in front of their family.

Furthermore, authorities continue to exercise Article 4, Section 3, of the law, which pertains to monitoring all forms of correspondence, including various media outlets, social media platforms, digital media, and others. This measure is further supported by the issuance of the Internal Security Service Law in 2020 and subsequently the Cyber Defense Center Law. These laws granted absolute authority to the Internal Security Apparatus or its affiliated agencies to monitor individuals’ devices without discrimination.

According to reports received by the OCHRD, many individuals who have been summoned or arrested due to opinion-related issues typically have all their electronic devices confiscated. Some individuals informed the OCHRD that despite their efforts to delete numerous applications, programs, or private conversations, they are often confronted during interrogation with deleted content.

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