Balancing Law and Human Rights: Principles of Criminal Investigation and Arrest

Human rights are fundamental rights inherent to every individual, regardless of race, gender, nationality, religion, or any other factor. These rights are essential for individuals to live with dignity, as defined and protected by laws and international treaties on human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights enumerates many of these rights, including those that must not be infringed upon during the process of investigation and arrest of individuals suspected of committing crimes. This report discusses the principles of investigation and arrest concerning human rights in Oman.

The first principle that must be adhered to is the presumption of innocence. This principle states that every person is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. This means that suspects cannot be treated as guilty before being convicted of a crime. The presumption of innocence is a fundamental right enshrined in Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In Oman, authorities and internal security forces, in particular, have subjected suspected individuals to detention and verbal and psychological torture during interrogation before any charges are filed and before the commission of a crime is proven. Additionally, many activists have been arbitrarily detained, with the OCHRD documenting numerous cases of activists in human rights, politics, and even public opinion being abducted from public places and subjected to enforced disappearances in unknown locations for periods exceeding weeks and months in some instances. For example, during the May 2021 protests, there were widespread arrests in Sohar from the first day of protests, with tear gas used to disperse demonstrators the following day.

The second principle is the right to a fair trial. This principle stipulates that every individual has the right to a fair and impartial trial. This means that suspects must be granted the right to access legal counsel, the right to remain silent, and the right to present evidence and witnesses in their defense. The right to a fair trial is also enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, specifically in Article 10, which states that ‘everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.’ Additionally, Article 7 asserts that ‘all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.’

The judicial system in Oman is not independent, as the Sultan is empowered to act as the final appellate court and exercise his authority in pardons as the head of the Supreme Judicial Council, the highest legal body in Oman. Thus, the Sultan holds the power to review all judicial decisions. The OCHRD has received numerous complaints from citizens who have been subjected to injustice in trials presided over by biased judges, especially in politically charged cases or cases that have garnered public attention. Recent examples include the case of entrepreneur Hani Al-Sarhani, as well as previously with Sultan Ambusaidi, journalist Al-Mukhtar Al-Hinai, and many other prisoners of conscience and participants in the May 2021 and 2011 protests.

In fact, the law criminalises any criticism of the Sultan or any member of his family. On October 20, 2022, Royal Decree No. 68/2022 was issued, Article (97) of which stipulates imprisonment for a period not less than (3) three years, and not exceeding (7) seven years, for anyone who openly or by publication criticizes the rights of the Sultan, his authority, or insults him personally. Similarly, the same penalty applies to anyone who openly or by publication criticizes the Sultan’s wife, Crown Prince, and his children, or insults them personally.

This article was used against Dr. Ahmed Qtn following his arrest on August 4, 2022, after his tweets on X platform, previously Twitter, calling for broader powers for the Shura Council. Ensuring public trials is one of the guarantees of a fair trial. Legally, the right to a public trial is guaranteed to citizens and residents in Oman unless the court decides to hold a session in camera for the public interest or public morals. The government also reserves the right to close ‘sensitive cases’ from the public, a measure exploited by authorities to evade social accountability.

Many activists have been summoned for interrogations, where they were questioned about their voice recordings and private text messages online. Moreover, numerous charges have been brought against activists based on WhatsApp messages used as evidence in Omani courts, as recently seen in the case of Maryam Al-Nuaimi, who was prosecuted for a private WhatsApp message.

The principles of investigation in the field of human rights and arrest are of paramount importance in ensuring the protection and respect of the rights of suspects. These principles include the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair trial, protection from torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and the right to privacy. Unfortunately, Omani authorities have violated these principles through arbitrary detention and the use of torture to extract confessions, in addition to violating the right to privacy by monitoring activists online and on social media accounts. These actions are unacceptable and contradict the fundamental principles of human rights and the rule of law.

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