Human rights groups condemn Omani press crackdown

Human rights groups condemn Omani press crackdown
Omani authorities have arrested a prominent journalist in a move condemned by Human Rights Watch.
2 min read
13 August, 2016
Youssef al-Haj, an editor, was arrested earlier this week [Getty]
Omani authorities have ordered the immediate closure of the Azamn newspaper after arresting its deputy editor on Tuesday.

Yousef al-Haj, the Azamn deputy editor, is the third Azamn journalist arrested since last month, over the publication of articles accusing senior judicial officials of corruption.

Following the publication of an article in Azamn alleging that the chairman of the Omani Supreme Court had interfered in a verdict, Omani authorities also arrested a number of senior journalists at the newspaper.

"Hauling journalists off to prison for alleging authorities’ potential abuse of power completely undermines Oman’s claims to respect free expression," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

"Omani authorities should rescind the government closure of Azamn newspaper, and either release the three Azamn journalists or promptly bring recognizable criminal charges against them, and guarantee them a fair trial."

Journalists and government critics in Oman have frequently faced harassment and detention in previous crackdowns

Earlier this week Azamn published an interview with Ali bin Salem al-No’mani, the vice president of the Omani Supreme Court.

Al-No’mani supported the allegations in the earlier article concerning the undermining of the judiciary’s independence.

Hours after the publication of this interview, the Information Ministry announced the immediate closure of Azamn and Oman’s Internal Security Service arrested al-Haj at his home the same day.

He is currently believed to be held at a military hospital after allegedly suffering a stroke during his arrest, a source told Human Rights Watch.

Journalists and government critics in Oman have frequently faced harassment and detention in previous crackdowns.

In 2011, a court issued a verdict ordering Azamn to shut down its activities for a month, and sentenced al-Ma’mari and al-Haj to five-month suspended jail sentences for insulting the justice minister and other officials.

"Closing a paper is only permitted in grave circumstances and certainly is not justified to shield public officials from criticism," Stork said.