The court sentenced Azamn editor Ibrahim Al-Maamari and deputy editor Youssef Al-Haj to three years in prison, a fine of 3,000 rials (7,000 euros) and a one-year ban on working as journalists after their release.
Zaher Al-Abri, Azamn’s local news editor, was given a one-year jail term and a fine of 1,000 rials (2,300 euros) while the newspaper, which had been suspended for the past seven weeks, has now been closed definitively.
Al-Maamari and Al-Haj were found guilty of undermining the prestige of the state, disturbing public order, misusing the Internet and reporting on an ongoing court case in defiance of a ministerial ban on the publication of any information about the affair. Al-Abri was convicted of misusing the Internet to disturb public order.
“This appalling court decision confirms the intransigence of the Omani authorities and their determination to crack down hard on independent media regardless of the international outcry about this case,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “We call on the authorities to overturn this sentence and free the journalists at once.”
The Monitor of Human Rights in Oman reports that, if they decide to appeal, Al-Maamari and Al-Haj will both have to pay bail of 50,000 rials (110,000 euros) to be freed pending the outcome of their appeal, while Abri will have to pay 5,000 rials (11,000 euros).
The three journalists were arrested after publishing a story in Azamn on 26 July about government pressure on judicial officials with the aim of influencing the outcome of a court case about an inheritance dispute.
The information ministry ordered the suspension of Azamn’s print and online editions with effect from 9 August after it published an interview with the vice-president of the supreme court in which he confirmed the corruption allegations.
According to an RSF source, the supreme court’s vice-president was himself then placed under house arrest. Al-Abri was released provisionally on 22 August.
RSF and the Committee to Protect Journalists sent a joint letter to Sultan Qaboos on 24 August asking him to intercede to stop the persecution of the newspaper and its journalists and thereby preserve Oman’s reputation as a country capable of mediating in regional crises. No reply was received.
The Sultanate of Oman is ranked 125th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.