Omani journalist jailed over article on judiciary

New York, August 2, 2016 – An Omani journalist has been jailed for nearly a week under investigation of multiple charges after the daily newspaper Azamn published an article questioning the independence of the judiciary, according to his outlet and human rights groups.

Police arrested Ibrahim al-Maamari, editor-in-chief of Azamn, on July 28 under orders of the public prosecutor, the paper reported. Azamn said the arrest stemmed from the July 26 article, “Supreme bodies tie the hands of justice,” which accuses 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. The article, which is still available online, has garnered nearly 20,000 views. Al Bousaidi has not issued a public response to the claims.

An editor at the paper, Zaher al-Abri, told CPJ that the paper has received no official information regarding the charges al-Maamari faces or whether the prosecutor has issued an indictment. Atheer newspaper, citing an unnamed source from the prosecutor’s office, reported that al-Maamari is under investigation for charges including publishing false news, undermining the prestige of the state, and disturbing public order.

“Oman likes to fashion itself as a problem-solver in the region. But by arresting journalists, it has instead become part of the problem,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Senior Research Associate Jason Stern. “The Omani government should focus on refuting articles it holds are untrue instead of arresting the journalists who wrote them.”

Atheer cited the unnamed source in the prosecutor’s office as saying that other suspects were under investigation but did not identify them, saying ultimate responsibility would fall upon 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 published a blank space on its front page yesterday.

Al-Maamari’s arrest was immediately preceded by the arrest of another Omani journalist, al-Moatasem al-Bahlani, the editor-in-chief of the online magazine Al-Falq. According to news reports, al-Bahlani was arrested on July 26 and released on July 28. The reason for the arrest is unclear. Al-Falq did not respond to CPJ’s requests for comment over email.

The Gulf Center for Human Rights said al-Bahlani’s arrest may have been related to his active presence on social media. Al-Bahlani’s Twitter profile, @aalbahlani, now reads, “The account is closed temporarily…maybe!”

The Omani Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a written request for comment on both arrests.