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Sat 20 Aug 2016 12:04 AM

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Rights group slams decision to close Omani newspaper

Human Rights Watch urged Omani authorities to rescind closure over publication of articles alleging corruption

Rights group slams decision to close Omani newspaper

Omani authorities should rescind the closure of the Azamn newspaper and considering releasing three of its journalists over the publication of articles accusing senior judicial officials of corruption, according to an international rights group.

Human Rights Watch said Oman ordered the immediate closure of the Azamn newspaper and arrested its deputy editor on August 9. Yousef al-Haj is the third Azamn journalist arrested since July 28 following the publication of the articles.

Following the publication of an article in Azamn alleging that the chairman of the Omani Supreme Court had interfered in a verdict, Omani authorities arrested Ibrahim al-Ma’mari, the editor-in-chief, on July 28, and Zaher al-Abri, who oversees the newspaper’s local coverage, on August 3.

“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 Azamnnewspaper, and either release the three Azamn journalists or promptly bring recognisable criminal charges against them, and guarantee them a fair trial.”

Hours after the publication, the Information Ministry announced the immediate closure of Azamn. 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.

The state-run Oman News Agency published a statement from Omani authorities about the Azamn report, saying: “The report not only ignored the basics of freedom of expression, but it also degraded it by utilizing it in such a manner that harms one of the pillars of the state.”

It said that the judiciary “should be respected rather than targeted with deliberate accusations meant to shake confidence, as was intended by the [Azamn] newspaper in its recent series of articles and interviews.”

Human Rights Watch said 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.

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