Situated on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman is often praised for its ancient cultural landmarks juxtaposed with modern architectural marvels. While the nation has demonstrated advances in digital infrastructure, it also grapples with substantial challenges in the realms of digital rights, internet privacy, and online freedom. As a member of international bodies like the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Oman’s digital landscape is still predominantly influenced by domestic policies and regional geopolitics.
Internet Censorship and Freedom
Press freedom in Oman is reportedly almost non-existent. The closure of Azamn newspaper in October 2017 by a Supreme Court ruling underlines the absence of press freedom and adds to the history of curbing dissent. This aligns with reports of increased censorship and arrests of social media critics. Given these facts, it is prudent to exercise extreme caution while sharing or disseminating information that could be construed as critical of the government.
Social Media Regulations
Recently, Oman’s Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Investment Promotion (MOCIIP) issued a resolution, Ministerial Resolution 619/2022, mandating licenses for the practice of marketing and promotion on social media platforms. While this move could be interpreted as an attempt to formalize digital marketing, it adds another layer of regulation on social media use and could potentially affect the nature of content being shared.
Peer-to-Peer Services and Torrenting
Peer-to-Peer (P2P) services and torrenting still exist in a gray area, with no specific regulations explicitly criminalizing such activities. While there are no international directives impacting Oman’s policy towards torrenting, given the government’s strict stance on other digital freedoms, it is advisable to tread cautiously in this arena.
While no specific instances of internet shutdowns have been reported in Oman, such actions are commonly used by governments globally to quell unrest. Given the regional trends, and Oman’s own track record with regard to freedom of speech, the possibility of future internet shutdowns cannot be ruled out.
Surveillance and Privacy
Although there are no specific reports focusing on government surveillance in Oman, surveillance technologies have increasingly become a part of life in the 21st century. This generalized increase in surveillance could potentially imply that digital monitoring exists, warranting the need for protective measures like Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and encrypted messaging services.
Targeting of Dissenters
Under the leadership of Sultan Haitham bin Tariq, freedom of expression remains severely limited. Security agencies, particularly the Internal Security Service, have targeted activists and citizens for their online activities. For example, blogger Awadh al-Sawafi was arrested for critical tweets. Given such practices, it is advisable to exercise caution while expressing dissenting views on social media platforms.
The regulatory environment is continually evolving. Oman has laws in place like the Electronic Transactions Law that deals with digital commerce. However, given the introduction of new regulations such as licensing for social media marketing, users should remain updated on legislative changes that could impact their online activities.
Oman’s challenges in the digital landscape are part of a larger global discussion involving freedom of expression, privacy, and state control in the digital age. The country appears to be leaning towards a more restrictive digital environment, based on both its domestic actions and global trends.