Oman: Oman: Trial begins for three “Azamn” journalists and writer Hamood Al-Shukaily arrested as free expression violations continue
On 15 August 2016, the Court of First Instance in Muscat, Oman held the first hearing in a case against three “Azamn” journalists, Editor-in-Chief Ibrahim Al-Mamari, Deputy Editor Yousef Al-Haj, and member of staff Zaher Al-Abri that violates their right to free expression. The case is related to articles published about the corruption of senior officials and their interference in judicial decisions in July and August 2016, which led to their arrest and the closure of the newspaper on 09 August.
The hearing was attended by representatives of various media outlets in addition to the families of the journalists who were surprised when the judge decided to disallow the publication of the proceedings of the hearing through the media. The three journalists are being represented by the lawyer Yaqoob Al-Harthy, who has taken up the task of defending them all.
Reports received by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) confirm that four charges have been directed against Al-Maamari, six charges against Al-Haj, and one charge against Zahir Al-Abri. The charges brought against Al-Maamari include allegedly violating the press and publication law and the law of information technology crimes, undermining the prestige of the state, damaging public order and publishing documents regarding a case that is still being considered by the judiciary. The same charges were brought against Al-Haj in addition to others including violating the order of the Ministry of Information not to publish news or reports related to his two colleagues who were detained before him. Al-Abri is facing one single charge related to his use of his account on Twitter to describe the place of detention of his colleague Al-Maamari.
At the hearing, the three journalists talked about the poor conditions of detention and said that they are placed in cramped cells where the simplest requirements of decency are not provided. They are targeted in relation to false charges that put press freedom in immediate danger.
The judge at the end of the first hearing decided not to release the three journalists until the next hearing on 22 August 2016 as a precautionary measure.
In a related case, on 14 August 2016, the Internal Security Service (ISS) arrested writer Hamood Al-Shukaily, reportedly in connection with his posts on Facebook about the arrests of the “Azamn” journalists and corruption in Oman. Reports confirm that he is being held in Muscat at the Special Division of Oman Police General Command, which is the executive arm of the ISS.
Once again the GCHR calls for the immediate and unconditional release of the three journalists Ibrahim Al-Maamari, Yousef Al-Haj and Zaher Al-Abri, as well as the writer Hammoud Al-Shukaily. The GCHR also demands that the decision to shut down “Azamn” be revoked immediately as did nothing more than publishing the truth in a professional manner, which is in the very heart of journalism. GCHR calls upon the ISS to stop targeting human rights defenders, Internet activists, writers and journalists. The government of Oman should direct its security forces to meet its obligations to remove any threat to freedom of opinion and expression in the country.
For more information on the case, see: https://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/1331