Omani judiciary attempts to silence newspaper before trial

New York, August 25, 2011Charges against prominent Omani journalist and filmmaker Youssef al-Haj should be dropped immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.  Al-Haj’s trial over an article he wrote that allegedly accused the Ministry of Justice of corruption began on August 14 but was postponed until this Sunday. At the August 14 hearing, the judge ordered that the newspaper that published al-Haj’s story, Al-Zaman, not print any details of the case, local human rights activists told CPJ. 

Al-Haj and Al-Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ibrahim Ma’mari briefly appeared in court. Ma’amari is only being charged for employing al-Haj without a permit. After the defense spoke, the prosecutor reiterated a request to shut down the newspaper and also requested that Al-Zaman be denied from publishing any articles with details of the case, local human rights activists reported. The judge tabled the request to shut down the newspaper.

“We call on the Omani authorities to drop all charges against Youssef al-Haj and allow Al-Zaman to publish freely,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy director. “This prosecution represents a serious deterioration of press freedom in Oman and raises concern about the ability of critical journalists to do their work.”

Al-Haj is being investigated for an article he wrote in Al-Zaman alleging that the justice minister and his deputy refused to grant a salary and grade increase to Haroun al-Mukeebli, a longtime civil servant, local and human rights activists reported. He was charged with “insulting the minister of justice and his deputy,” “attempting to create a division in society,” “abusing the judiciary in Oman, “violating the publications and publishing law,” and “practicing a profession without a permit from the Ministry of Information,” according to CPJ’s review of documents from Omani authorities. Al-Haj has been banned from writing since July 8.