Last Updated 12 May 2023

The Sultanate of Oman is an absolute monarchy with a population of 4.5 million people as of 2021,1 of which only 56-60% are citizens.2; 45% of citizens are Sunni Muslims and another 45% are Ibadi Muslims,3; a branch distinct from both Shia and Sunni Islam. Approximately 5% of the population are members of the Shia minority. Non-citizen religious groups include Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and others.4 There is no data on the number of non-religious people living in the country, indicative of the repressive climate in which they must live.

Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said came to power in 2020 following the death of his cousin, previous Sultan Qaboos bin Said.5; Oman is a member of the League of Arab States (LAS), the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Constitution and government Education and children’s rights Family, community, society, religious courts and tribunals Freedom of expression advocacy of humanist values
Grave Violations
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

The monarch is both head of state and head of government. There is in Oman a bicameral parliament; made up of the State Council (MajlisA’Dawla), the members of which are appointed by the Sultan, and the Shura Council (MajlisA’Shura), which consists of members elected by the public every four years.6!ut/p/a1/hc9Nb4JAEAbgX8OVmd2l27W3NQQVxdVgEffSYLNdSYA1QIs_v7TxYuzH3N7J8yYzoCEH3RQfpS360jVF9ZU1f1Fbwslc4VKtnwnKOe62ahrRlPARHEaAv4zE__qpaWAP-pYJsR4ZodMgYRkVCb8ChjNENVkkQZoRpHEUPoj0kc7UHVjuEomUZVE8WXEWhsEV_HFoDNpW7vj99EE2RyYs6Na8mda0_ns7rk99f-6ePPRwGAbfOmcr47-62sOfKifX9ZDfSjjX-WVRbuq96OQncpULbQ!!/dl5/d5/L0lKQSEvUUt3SS80RUkhL2Vu/; Political parties are forbidden, and no organized opposition exists. According to the Basic Statute,[re][/ref] the Sultan must be a Muslim.

Oman imposes substantial restrictions on freedom of religion or belief and the freedoms of expression, assembly and association. Islam is state religion and Sharia is the basis of legislation (Article 2 of the Basic Statute of the State), however legislation is largely based on civil code. The principles of sharia inform the civil, commercial and criminal codes, but there are no sharia courts.7

The Basic Law prohibits discrimination based on religion (Article 17) and protects the right to practice religious rites on condition that doing so does not disrupt public order or contradict morals (Article 28). However, all religious groups are required to register and the law restricts collective worship of non-Muslims. The criteria for approval are not published. The law prohibits public proselytizing by all religious groups, although religious groups are allowed to proselytize privately within legally registered houses of worship. The authorities monitor sermons at mosques, censor religious texts and pay the salaries of some Ibadi and Sunni imams, excluding non-Muslim and Shia leaders.8

Although the government records religion on birth certificates, it is not printed on other official identity documents.9

Education and children’s rights

Islamic studies are mandatory for Muslim students in public school at both primary and secondary level. Non-Muslim students are exempt from this requirement provided that they notify school administrators. According to the US State Department, Islamic studies classes address the historical development of Islamic religious thinking. Teachers are prohibited from proselytizing or favoring any one Islamic group over another.10

Private schools are allowed to provide alternative religious studies courses.11

Family, community and society

All civil courts have a Sharia department, which deals with the matters of personal status law. The Family law is largely based on Islamic (Ibadi) law.12 Oman is the only state, in which the Ibadi school of thought is predominant. Although the code allows non-Muslims to follow their own religious laws regarding family law,13 Article 277 of the Penal Code bans the consumption of food, drink, or other substances that break fast in public places during the month of Ramadan; doing so is punishable by up to 3 months imprisonment.

Shia Muslims may resolve family and personal status cases according to Shia jurisprudence outside the courts, and retain the right to transfer their case to a civil court if they cannot find a resolution within Shia religious tradition.

Women’s rights

Although Article 17 of the Basic Law states the equality of all citizens, women are discriminated in law and practice.14 The Penal Code weights the evidence of woman just the half of the evidence of a man, according to Islamic law.15 The family law discriminates women in divorce, child custody, inheritance and legal guardianship. Men are legally considered to be the heads of the households (Article 38 of the Personal Status Law).16 After a divorce, men receive the right of child custody. Female heirs inherit generally half as much as male heirs, in accordance with Islamic law. Muslim men are allowed to marry Muslim, Jewish or Christian women, women are only allowed to marry non-Muslim men if they convert to Islam.17 Women are required to obtain their family’s approval before marrying. Family law allows men to take up to four wives and according to the authorities’ estimate one of 20 men is in a polygamous marriage. Men have the right to divorce their wife, while women can obtain a divorce only in certain circumstances, as for instance with the Islamic principle of “khula”, where a woman agrees to forfeit any future financial support and her dowry. If an unmarried woman gives birth to a child, it is taken away from her in order to correct her “immoral behavior”.

Women also experience restrictions on their self-determination in respect to health and reproductive rights. Abortion is only legal when a woman’s life is at risk. The Penal Code prescribes penalties to women obtaining an abortion, as well as providers.

LGBTI+ rights

Provisions relating to the criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity can draw their origins in Islamic law. In 2018, revisions to the penal code included provisions strengthening laws against LGBTI+ people.

The Penal Code 2018 criminalizes same-sex intercourse, ‘indecency’, and ‘displaying indecent or immoral images’ for both men and women. The maximum penalty is three years’ imprisonment.18

Trans people may also face prosecution under a ‘cross-dressing’ law, which prescribes a maximum one-year period in prison.

Human Dignity Trust indicates that the laws are rarely enforced.19

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedom of expression is limited, and criticism of the sultan (as well as his wife and children) is prohibited and punishable with 3-to-7-year prison sentence.20

Since 2011 several individuals have been arrested and sentenced for insulting the authorities, posting insulting material on social media or inciting protests. In 2022, Royal Decree No. 68/2022 amended 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, widely understood as a means to further restrict freedom of speech.21,-human-rights

All books are subject to prior-censorship.

Press freedom

The 2004 Private Radio and Television Companies Law allows for the establishment of private broadcast media outlets. The government permits private print publications, but many of these accept government subsidies, practice self-censorship, or face punishment for crossing political red-lines. Using the Internet in a way that “might prejudice public order or religious values” is also a crime, with a penalty of between one month and a year in prison, and fines of not less than 1,000 rials (US$2,600).22 Omanis have access to the internet but the government censors politically sensitive content and pornographic content; misuse of social media websites can, in certain circumstances, constitute a criminal offence.23 The sultan issued a decree in 2008 expanding government oversight and regulation of electronic communications, including on personal blogs.

Freedom of assembly and association

In February 2015 a new citizenship law came in force, which empowers the government to strip nationals of their citizenship, if they uphold principles or beliefs that undermine the country’s best interests, which includes having connections with organizations that can harm the interest of the country or working for a hostile country that act against Oman.24

Restrictions on conversion and freedom of thought

Apostasy is not a criminal or civil offense per se, however, a conversion from Islam has consequences; in family law, as stated above, fathers who convert from Islam lose paternal rights. Religion is printed on birth certificates.25

Part eight of the Penal Code26 articulates a range of ‘Crimes Against Religion’, which may be broadly interpreted to limit the right to freedom of conscience and expression of the non-religious, in particular.

Provisions include the criminalization of whoever establishes or joins any group or organization, or participates in a meeting of any group or organization that is “aimed at opposing or disparaging the pillars upon which the religion of Islam is based” (Article 270 and 271); as well as the possession, publication or distribution of material that either contains “opposition or disparagement of the pillars upon which the religion of Islam is based, or containing a call to another” (Article 272) or material more broadly deemed to be offensive to Islam or another Abrahamic religion (Article 273).

According to the US State Department,27 “Using the internet in a way that “might prejudice public order or religious values” is a crime that carries a penalty of between one month and one year in prison and a fine of not less than 1,000 Omani rials ($2,600).”

Defamation of religion

It is a criminal offense to “offend” any Abrahamic religion. Article 269 of the Penal Code states that disrespecting the divine verbally, in writing, by drawing, by gesturing or by using any other means, as well as offending the religion of Islam or insulting other Abrahamic religions is punishable by imprisonment of no less than 3 years and not exceeding 10 years.28 It is worth noting that a public declaration of ‘apostasy’ may be interpreted as a form of offending religious beliefs, especially in the context of the wider provisions within this section of the penal code. It is unclear if the law is enforced in practice.

Other freedoms

The right to peaceful assembly within limits is provided for by the Basic Law Articles 32.29 However, under Article 121 of the Penal Code, persons participating in a gathering of over ten persons may be sentenced for up to one year in prison for “disturbing public order.”30,the%20limits%20of%20the%20Law.%22


Highlighted cases

In 2015, an activist and former diplomat Hassan Mubarak Baloch, known as “Hassan Basham” was arrested for insulting the divine self and spreading atheism. In 2018, he died while in custody.31

Writer and online activist, Abdullah Habib was reportedly initially arrested in 2015 on charges related to inciting hatred and ‘blasphemy’. In 2018, Habib served a six-month prison sentence during which he was reportedly repeatedly denied access to medication and suffered a significant deterioration in his health before his eventual release in June 2018, after receiving an official pardon from the then-Sultan Qaboos.32


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