Journalists face jail in Oman

While the sultan of Oman has been winning gratitude from President Obama for helping to secure the release of two American hikers imprisoned in Iran, the plight of three men facing jail in Oman is attracting less attention.

Journalists Ibrahim al-Mammari and Yousef al-Haj have been sentenced to five months each for defaming Oman's justice minister and his deputy, and "insulting" their dignity. Haroon al-Muqaibli, an official in the justice ministry, received a similar sentence for leaking information to them, and the journalists' newspaper, Azzamn, is to be forcibly closed for a month.

The charges arose from an article (in Arabic) last May which made allegations of corruption and mismanagement in the ministry.

The men are currently free on bail pending an appeal next month.

Yusuf al-Haj, the reporter who wrote the offending article, described the verdict as "a blow to all journalists" and "a low point for Oman’s judiciary". "This is a political trial aimed at silencing all Oman’s journalists," he told Amnesty International.

A spokesman for Human Rights Watch said: "Using defamation charges to shield public officials from criticism is a clear violation of the right to free expression. Oman should respect the right of journalists and newspapers to operate freely and expose alleged corruption."

Earlier this year, Oman witnessed street protests against corruption, rising prices and a lack of freedom. A dozen ministerswere dismissed but accountable government and free expression in Oman still seem a long way off.

Reuters notes: "Last year, a blogger was jailed for one month for criticising a government minister and this year two reporters were suspended and one detained for several days."

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 24 September 2011.