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Oman: Authorities continue targeting freedom of expression

2017-05-15

The Minister of Information in Oman has issued another directive that extends the closure of “Azamn” newspaper, as freedom of expression continues to suffer in Oman. In addition, writer and researcher Mansour Bin Nasser Al-Mahrazi must face trial before the Court of First Instance in Muscat after two months in detention over two books he wrote.

On 08 May 2017, the Minster of Information issued another directive that has his signature in which he extended the closure of “Azamn” newspaper to another three months – despite the decision by the Court of Appeal to allow the newspaper to open again.

On 26 December 2016, the Court of Appeal announced its verdict related to the case of three “Azamn” journalists. The Court of Appeal acquitted Zaher Al-Abri while it sentenced Yousef Al-Haj to one year in prison and Ibrahim Al-Maamari to six months in prison. Only Al-Haj is still in prison serving the one year sentence. The court also revoked the initial directive to shut down “Azamn” newspaper, which was issued by the Ministry of Information.

In a separate case, the Internal Security Service (ISS) referred writer and researcher Mansour Bin Nasser Al-Mahrazi to the Court of First Instance in Muscat, which will hold its first hearing in his trial on 16 May 2017. He is facing two charges of “insulting the Sultan” and “undermining the status of the country” in relation to two books which he published that focused on government corruption in Oman.

Al-Mahrazi has published two books, including one in 2014 entitled “State and Society in Oman”. Authorities questioned him about the book and confiscated all copies after it was published. In 2016, he wrote a new book entitled “Oman in the square of corruption, politics, development and underdevelopment; disclosure of facts and criticism of axioms”, which led to his recent arrest and detention for the last two months. Reports confirmed that he is being held incommunicado at the Special Division of the Omani Police General Command in Muscat without having any access to his family or lawyer. The Special Division is the executive arm of the ISS.

Al-Mahrazi was previously detained for three days in September 2015 as a result of his articles in the online magazine “Mowaten” (“Citizen”) in which he criticised the totalitarianism of the government in Oman and its extreme centralisation.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) condemns in the strongest terms the continued imprisonment of Yousef Al-Haj and Mansour Bin Nasser Al-Mahrazi in addition to the ongoing closure order issued by the Minister of Information against “Azamn” newspaper, which contradicts the decision of the Court of Appeal mentioned above.

GCHR urges the authorities in Oman to: 

  1. Release Yousef Al-Haj and Mansour Bin Nasser Al-Mahrazi immediately and revoke the decision to shut down “Azamn” newspaper;
  2. Provide a secure environment for “Azamn” newspaper to do its journalistic work;
  3. Protect freedom of the press in the country; and
  4. Guarantee in all circumstances that human rights defenders including journalists, writers and on-line activists in Oman are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment. 

GCHR respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to Article 6 (c) “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters” and to Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.