People walk by riot police cars deployed during a protest on May 25, 2021 in Sohar, Oman. Omani authorities temporarily suspended Kholoud al-Alawi, a Hala FM broadcast journalist, from her job in December 2021. (AP Photo)

Omani authorities suspend radio journalist following guest’s on-air critical comments

Omani authorities suspended Kholoud al-Alawi, a journalist at privately owned Hala FM, from her work for at least a month in December 2021, according to BBC Arabic and Beirut-based regional human rights organization the Gulf Center for Human Rights.

The Ministry of Information informed the radio station by phone of the suspension on December 1, 2021, according to those reports. Earlier in the day, al-Alawi had interviewed Shura Council member Mohammad al-Zadjali on her program “All Questions,” during which he criticized the council and the Ministry of Information. In its article on the suspension, BBC Arabic embedded a video of the conversation, originally posted on Twitter, which shows al-Alawi interrupting al-Zadjali’s comments, saying “all appreciation to the Ministry of Information, which supervises our work, and we also follow all of the laws,” before abruptly ending the interview.

On December 23, the Ministry of Information issued a memo to media outlets in Oman ordering them to coordinate with the ministry when hosting members of the Shura Council, according to the Gulf Center, which linked to a photo of the memo posted on Twitter by a former council member. The Shura Council is the lower house of the Omani Parliament and the only one elected by popular vote in Oman.

CPJ was unable to confirm the grounds on which al-Alawi’s suspension was decided, whether the ministry’s order suspended al-Alawi from her duties as the station’s general manager or only as host of “All Questions,” or if the suspension was for a specified length of time, as the ministry did not release a written decision and did not immediately respond to CPJ’s email request for comment.

On January 2, 2022, the station advertised the next upcoming episode of “All Questions” on its Twitter profile and tagged al-Alawi, without mentioning the prior suspension of either the program or its host. As of January 10, the station was promoting the program with al-Alawi as its host on its website.

CPJ reached out to Hala FM via the station’s website for comment on the reasons for al-Alawi’s suspension and whether she had returned to work but did not immediately receive a response.

BBC Arabic describes Hala FM as being the first private radio station in Oman. According to the U.S. human rights organization Freedom House’s 2021 country report, private media outlets in Oman receive subsidies from the government and practice self-censorship on sensitive topics. The Omani Centre for Human rights, a UK-based human rights organization, detailed several arrests of activists and media workers for social media posts in its 2021 annual report, while also reporting on al-Alawi’s suspension.

Omani authorities shuttered the sultanate’s only independent newspaper and sentenced three of its journalists to varying prison sentences in 2016, as CPJ reported at the time.