Oman orders newspaper shut, jails three journalists

According to the charge sheet read at court, the journalists were convicted of disturbing public order, undermining the prestige of the state, and misusing the internet

MUSCAT // An Omani court on Monday ordered the permanent closure of a newspaper which had reported on alleged corruption within the judiciary, and jailed three of its journalists for undermining the state, judicial sources said.

The court sentenced Azamn’s editor-in-chief Ibrahim Al Maamari and his deputy Yousef Al Haj to three years in prison during Monday’s hearing, the sources said. The two were also ordered to pay a fine of 3,000 Omani rials (Dh28,616) each and were banned from working in journalism for one year.

The court also jailed their colleague Zaher Al Abri for one year and fined him 1,000 Omani rials.

Azamn had extensively covered a series of corruption cases in 2014 in which several company executives were convicted.

Omani authorities suspended the newspaper in August for a month after detaining the three journalists.

In a statement which did not mention Azamn by name, they said it had exceeded the limits of free speech and “drifted into ... harming one of the pillars of the state, the judiciary”.

According to the charge sheet read at court, the journalists were convicted of disturbing public order, undermining the prestige of the state, and misusing the internet, the sources said.

Haj was convicted of publishing an interview with a senior judiciary official even after he was ordered not to.

Maamari was the first of the three to be arrested on July 28, two days after the newspaper published an article which accused public officials of corruption and interference in judicial decisions.

Five years ago, a court ordered the newspaper closed down for one month and Maamari and a reporter were given five-month suspended jail sentences for insulting the justice minister and other officials.

Rights groups have criticised the closure of the newspaper and the arrests.

Last month, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists wrote a letter to Sultan Qaboos asking him “to intercede to obtain the unconditional release” of the three journalists “who are being unjustly detained and prosecuted in connection with an article about suspected corruption within Oman’s judicial system”.

“Detaining and prosecuting journalists because of their investigative coverage of a judicial case amounts to criminalising the very essence of journalism, which is to provide the public with information,” the watchdogs said.

Appealing the verdict would cost the convicts around U$130,000 (Dh477,485), the judicial sources said.

* Agence France-Presse and Reuters

Published: September 26, 2016 04:00 AM

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