New York, August 5, 2016–Omani authorities this week arrested a second journalist from the Azamn newspaper. Zaher al-Abri, an editor, was detained without formal explanation in Muscat on August 3, according to his colleague and a local human rights group. He was arrested the day after speaking with CPJ about the case of Ibrahim al-Maamari, the paper’s editor-in-chief who has been in custody since July 28.
Al-Abri was arrested after being summoned for questioning by the Special Division of the Omani police, according to an August 3 Facebook post by Yousif al-Haj, who also works for Azamn, and a statement published today by the independent organization, Monitor of Human Rights in Oman. The rights group added that before his and al-Maamari’s arrests, Azamn had published a critical article on the Omani judiciary. Both al-Abri and the paper had also been vocal about al-Maamari’s arrest.
“Oman authorities should immediately release Ibrahim al-Maamari and Zaher al-Abri,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Senior Research Associate Jason Stern. “Oman can hardly continue to claim the role of regional peace mediator if it is rounding up its own journalists and throwing them in jail.”
The day before he was summoned, al-Abri had spoken with CPJ about al-Maamari’s case. Police arrested the editor-in-chief on July 28 under orders of the public prosecutor, the paper reported. Al-Abri told CPJ at the time that the paper had received no official information about the charges al-Maamari faces or whether an indictment has been issued. Atheer newspaper, citing an unnamed source from the prosecutor’s office, reported that al-Maamari was under investigation for charges including publishing false news, undermining the prestige of the state, and disturbing public order.
Atheer cited the unnamed source in the prosecutor’s office as saying that other suspects were under investigation on the same charges but did not identify them, saying ultimate responsibility would fall on the editor-in-chief, al-Maamari.
Al-Abri also told CPJ that Azamn received an order from the Ministry of Information forbidding it from publishing further details on the case. In protest, the newspaper has published a blank space on its front page every day this month.
Azamn reported that the arrest of al-Maamari stemmed from a July 26 article, “Supreme bodies tie the hands of justice,” which accused unnamed officials of influencing the Chief Magistrate of the Supreme Court, Ishaq Bin Ahmed Al Bousaidi, to intervene in judicial proceedings concerning an inheritance dispute. Al Bousaidi has not issued a public response to the claims.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to CPJ’s email requesting comment on August 2 and 3. Oman’s public prosecutor did not respond to CPJ’s calls and emailed request for comment on August 3. Its embassy in Washington, D.C. had no one available for comment via telephone on August 3 and CPJ was told to send questions via email. CPJ did not receive a response to the email it sent that day.