Oman: newspaper editor held over article about pressure on judiciary
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) deplores Omani newspaper editor Ibrahim Al-Maamari’s detention by the Muscat police for the past five days for reporting that that senior officials had pressured the judiciary in a case involving a large inheritance.
The editor of the daily Azamn, Ibrahim Al-Maamari was arrested on 28 July in connection with an article published two days earlier alleging that government officials tried to get the judicial authorities to change a 2015 ruling in the case in order to benefit certain influential figures.
“We condemn Ibrahim Al-Maamari’s arrest and continuing detention,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk.
“By punishing this journalist in this way and by keeping him in detention, the Sultanate of Oman is sending a negative message about media freedom and is demonstrating an inability to tolerate criticism of the political and judicial system. We call for an independent and impartial investigation and for Al-Maamari’s immediate release.”
A public prosecutor’s office spokesman said the offending newspaper article was regarded as “a public crime,” one that discredited the integrity of the judiciary and government officials. He said a number of complaints had been received, leading to Al-Maamari’s arrest under article 4 of the Criminal Procedures Act. There were other as yet unnamed “suspects,” he added.
The prosecutor’s office said the article was incorrect, that there was still no final decision in the inheritance case and that Al-Maamari, by publishing false information, had violated articles 25 and 29 of the Press and Publications Law, which is punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine.
He is also accused of undermining the prestige of the state under article 135 of the Penal Code and publishing news that would disturb public order under article 19 of the Cyber Crimes Act.
Azamn wanted to run a story about his case on its front page yesterday but the information ministry did not authorize it so instead Azamn printed half of its front page blank in protest. It also published an editorial that included solidarity messages from intellectuals. A source close to the newspaper told RSF that Al-Maamari has not been allowed to receive visits or communicate with anyone at the newspaper.
This is not the first time that the authorities have targeted Al-Maamari and Azamn. Al-Maamari was arrested and sentenced to five months in prison in September 2011 (and the newspaper was banned for a month) because a May 2011 article was deemed to have insulted the justice minister and one of his deputies. The sentence was quashed after Azamn published an apology although the conviction was upheld on appeal in January 2012.
Meanwhile, Almoatasem Al-Bahlani, the editor of the online magazine Al-Falq, was freed on 28 July after being held for two days in connection with comments he posted on Twitter, the Omani Observatory for Human Rights has reported. The official reasons for his arrest have not been made public.
The Sultanate of Oman is ranked 125th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.