A court in Muscat yesterday gave website moderator Ali Al Zwaidi a 10-day suspended prison sentence and a fine of 200 rials (400 euros) for posting an allegedly confidential government document online, but dismissed a charge of defamation that had been pending against him since August 2008.
The confidential document was a council of minister directive to the information minister instructing him to restrict the public's freedom to criticise government officials. It revealed that the TV programme “Hadha al-Sabah” was pre-recorded although it was portrayed as a live broadcast.
Zwaidi had faced a possible three-year jail sentence on the defamation charge, which was the result of a complaint by the head of Omantel, Oman's leading telecommunications company, about a critical comment posted on the website. The charge was dismissed after a nine-day investigation.
08.04 - “Don't let your kingdom be one of those that censor free expression”
Joint letter to Sultan of Oman by Reporters Without Borders and Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Jean-François Julliard, the secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders, and Gamal Eid, the executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, have written to the Sultan of Oman, Qaboos Bin Said al Said, about journalist Ali al-Zwaidi, who faces a possible three-year prison sentenced for allowing a comment criticising the head of Oman's main telecommunications company, Omantel, to be posted on an Internet forum he was moderating. He is due to appear in court on 21 April.
“We urge you, Your Majesty, to halt this trial and to order Al-Zwaidi's release on the grounds that his actions were limited to the defence of free expression and to the realm of publishing,” Julliard and Eid said in the letter. “We also urge you to call for the immediate abolition of all unnecessary restrictions on the lives and activities of the citizens of the Sultanate of Oman. Please do not let your Kingdom be included among those countries in the region that repress freedom of expression.”
In August 2008, Al-Zwaidi permitted the posting of an article criticizing Muhammad Ben Ali al-Wehebi, the head of the telecommunications company Omantel. He was held for 11 days in February and was charged with violating article 61 of the Omani communications law, which prohibits “using a system or a device or a means of communication to direct a message while knowing it is untrue or which causes harm to a person or service.”
At a court hearing on 17 March, he was surprised to learn that he was also charged with leaking plans by the council of ministers for a television programme called "Hadha al-Sabah".
Read the letter