Oman arrests journalists and shuts down Azamn newspaper

Expression

In July and August, authorities cracked down on freedom of expression in Oman, arresting journalists and writers and closing down a daily newspaper. This spate of arrests follows the targeting of human rights defenders and online activists earlier in the year.

On 26th July, Azamn newspaper carried an article reporting on allegations of corruption by senior government officials and their interference in judicial decisions. Two days later, its Editor-in-Chief, Ibrahim Al-Maamari, was summoned by the Omani authorities and detained. The following week, Zaher Al-Abri, a journalist with Azamn was also detained. Following this, Youssef Al-Haj, Azamn's Deputy Editor-in-Chief was also arrested, having published a series of articles based on exclusive interviews with the Vice-President of Oman’s Supreme Court, Ali Al-No’mani, confirming allegations of corruption made in the earlier article. The newspaper was shut down on 9th August. 

On 15th August, all three appeared in the Court of First Instance in Muscat. According to reports received by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Al-Maamari was charged with 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. Al-Haj faces six charges while Al-Abri is facing one single charge related to the use of his account on Twitter to describe the place of detention of his colleague Al-Maamari. During the hearing, the journalists reported poor conditions in detention. The next hearing was scheduled for 22nd August and the judge remanded the three journalists in custody until then.

In a related case, on 14th 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 confirmed that he is being held in Muscat at the Special Division of Oman Police General Command, which is the executive arm of the ISS.