(Beirut, August 14, 2016) – Omani authorities ordered the immediate closure of the Azamnnewspaper and arrested its deputy editor on August 9, 2016, Human Rights Watch said today. Yousef al-Haj, the Azamn deputy editor, is the third Azamn journalist arrested since July 28, 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 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 recognizable criminal charges against them, and guarantee them a fair trial.”
On August 9, 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.
Al-No’mani was also quoted as saying that he regretted the crackdown on Omani journalists, including al-Ma’mari, saying “He [al-Ma’mari] spoke honestly and sincerely in his publication, and now as an administrator in the judiciary I do not know his whereabouts.”
Hours after the publication of this interview, 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 on August 10. On August 6, al-Haj had posted onFacebook that he possessed official documents implicating Supreme Court Chairman Ishaq al-Busaidi in violations of Oman’s laws and asking for protection.