Appeal court lifts ban on daily, but confirms jail for two journalists

A Muscat appeal court yesterday lifted a ban on Oman’s main opposition newspaper, Azamn, but upheld prison sentences for its two most senior journalists, although it reduced the length of their terms.

The sentences of editor Ibrahim al-Maamari and deputy editor Youssef al-Haj were reduced to six months and a year, respectively. The two journalists were originally sentenced to three years in prison for “undermining the prestige of the state and misusing the Internet.”

The appeal court quashed the conviction of a third Azamn journalist, Zaher al-Abri, who was given a one-year jail term at the original trial in September. And the appeal court rescinded the order issued at the original trial confirming the information ministry’s 10 August decision to close the daily.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomes the possibility of Azamn resuming publication in the near future but deplores the fact that the jail terms of two of the journalists were reduced rather than overturned. Maamari and Haj committed no crime and should therefore not be in prison.

The journalists’ lawyer, Yaqoub Al-Harithy, appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. Reporters Without Borders joins Al-Harithy in demanding the release of the two journalists as they await the start of the appeal trial, which could take up to one year. The Gulf Center for Human Rights confirms that Ibrahim al-Maamari and Youssef al-Haj were transferred to the central prison to serve their sentences, following the issuance of the appeal court’s verdict on 26 December.

It remains to be seen whether Azamn will really be able to resume functioning. Khaled Ibrahim of the Gulf Center for Human Rights said the information ministry could still block its reopening. RSF is also concerned about its ability to operate properly with its editor and deputy editor still in prison.

The newspaper was closed after publishing a story about alleged government corruption and pressure on judges to grant privileges to persons in positions of influence. Following their arrests in July and August, the three journalists were given their jail sentences on 26 September.

The Sultanate of Oman is ranked 125th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

Published on
Updated on 29.12.2016