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Oman: Supreme Court ruling closes “Azamn” newspaper forever

2017-10-08

The Supreme Court of Oman issued on Thursday, 05 October 2017, a final ruling on the closure of "Azamn" newspaper, ending the paper’s fight to reopen and shuttering it permanently.

“Azamn” is regarded as an independent newspaper characterised by its anti-corruption reporting since its establishment in 2007. It has been closed since August 2016 when it published an article that led to two of its editors and a journalist being jailed.

“Azamn” published an article on 26 July 2016 entitled "Supreme bodies tie the hands of justice," which referred to the corruption of senior officials and their interference in judicial decisions.

 On 28 July 2016, security forces arrested Ibrahim Al-Maamari, Editor-in-Chief of “Azamn”. On 03 August 2016, the Internal Security Service (ISS) summoned Zaher Al-Abri, member of the editorial committee to appear before the Special Division, and detained him upon arrival. On 09 August 2016, an official source said the Omani government has taken all “suitable legal procedures” against “Azamn” newspaper, including ordering the newspaper closed indefinitely. The ISS also arrested Yousef Al-Haj, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper.

On 26 September 2016, the Court of First Instance in Muscat sentenced Al-Maamari, Al-Haj, and Al-Abri, to prison and ordered the newspaper to close permanently. At a hearing held on 26 December 2016, the Court of Appeal in Muscat acquitted Al-Abri while sentencing Al-Haj to one year in prison and Al-Maamari to six months in prison, to include the time they had spent in detention. The court also revoked the decision to shut down “Azamn” newspaper which was issued by the Ministry of Information.

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

According to reports received by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), the Public Prosecution challenged the Court of Appeal’s ruling at the Supreme Court, which in turn issued this decision without deliberation or hearing. Therefore, the new ruling of the Supreme Court contradicts the judgement of the Court of Appeal in Muscat on 26 December to revoke the decision to shut down the newspaper.

It should be noted that the President of the Supreme Court and the Deputy Supreme Judicial Council Isaac Al-Bousaidi was named in the article which led to the initial closure of the newspaper. See http://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/1323. This creates a clear conflict of interest and does not adhere to international standards for fair trial and due process, which would be hindered by a lack of independence of the judiciary.

Ibrahim Al-Maamari was released on 10 April 2017 while Yousef Al-Haj is still in prison and will be released on 23 October 2017. See: http://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/1554

GCHR strongly condemns the Supreme Court’s ruling that closes “Azamn” newspaper, one of Oman’s few independent news sources.

GCHR calls on the authorities in Oman to:

  1. Retry the case of “Azamn” newspaper at the Supreme Court, during which Judge Isaac Al-Bousaidi is recused;
  2. Adhere to the Court of Appeal order to re-open “Azamn” newspaper.
  3. Guarantee that journalists and independent media in Oman are able to function freely, and that freedom of expression in Oman is respected according to international standards, including Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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.