By Claire Ferris-Lay
Court hands down five-month sentences to two writers for insulting justice minister
Omani newspaper Azzaman has pledged to appeal a five-month jail sentence given to two of its journalists for insulting the Gulf state’s justice minister, it was reported Monday.
The court of appeal on Saturday confirmed the jail terms given to journalists Yusef al-Haj and editor-in-chief Ibrahim al-Maamaria for an article published in May alleging corruption in the justice ministry, newswire AP said.
The court initially ordered the newspaper suspend its operations for a month but decided not to enforce the ruling. Another justice ministry employee was also given five months in prison for telling the journalists that a ministry employee had been denied his salary and benefits by the justice minister without valid cause.
Azzaman’s board of directors in a statement complained against the court’s failure to respect an agreement to acquit the pair in exchange for apologizing to the minister, the newswire said.
The two men were originally charged with insulting the minister, Mohammed al-Hanai, and his undersecretary of state, after accusing them of “fraud, deception and prevarications”.
Watchdog Reporters Without Borders in August wrote to Oman’s ruler, Sultan Qaboos, expressing their concerns for the trial.
“The proceedings are out of all proportion to the gravity of the offense and we call for their immediate withdrawal,” the letter said. “We fear that Yousef Al-Haj will not have time to organise his defense for the first hearing and will not get a fair trial.”
Oman, a normally peaceful Gulf state, was hit by protests in February following uprisings that toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia. Omanis demanded higher wages, more jobs and an end to graft rather than a change of government, however.