Riot police cars are seen in Sohar, Oman, on May 25, 2021. Omani journalist Mukhtar al-Hanai was recently charged over his reporting on government corruption. (AP Photo)

Omani journalist Mukhtar al-Hanai charged over corruption coverage

New York, May 6, 2022 – Oman authorities should drop all charges against journalist Mukhtar al-Hanai and allow the press to work freely and without fear of legal harassment, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.

The public prosecutor’s office in Muscat, the capital, informed al-Hanai, a reporter for the news website Atheer, on March 15 that criminal charges had been filed against him, according to the London-based human rights organization Oman Centre for Human Rights and the regional human rights group Gulf Centre for Human Rights.

The charges were filed under Article 249 of the Omani penal code, which bars publishing news about ongoing investigations, according to those sources. If convicted, al-Hanai could face up to two years in prison and a fine of up to 1,000 riyal (US$2,600).

“Intimidating journalists who report on embezzlement cases is a counter-intuitive anticorruption strategy, to say the least,” said CPJ Senior Middle East and North Africa Researcher Justin Shilad. “Omani authorities should drop their charges against Mukhtar al-Hanai and stop interfering with journalists covering sensitive issues.”

The charges cite March 9 tweets by al-Hanai reporting that eight government officials had been found guilty of embezzlement and falsifying government records, and that the Omani Ministry of Information had barred local media from reporting on the cases, according to those human rights groups.

Al-Hanai frequently posts on Twitter about Omani politics and alleged corruption, and has about 90,000 followers; he has continued tweeting as of May 3, but CPJ was unable to find the tweets mentioned in the charges, which appear to have been deleted.

A hearing for al-Hanai’s case had been scheduled at the Muscat Court of First Instance for May 8, but was moved to June 19, according to the human rights groups. The Oman Centre for Human Rights noted that Article 249 did not bar people from publishing about trials that had concluded, as the corruption case had.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights reported that al-Hanai is barred from leaving the country while his case is pending. Authorities previously detained and questioned al-Hanai for three days in 2019 over a report on corruption he published in Atheer, according to the Oman center.

Atheer posted statements on Facebook and Twitter saying that the outlet “stands in solidarity with our colleague Mukhtar al-Hanai” and expressing faith in the Omani judicial system.

CPJ emailed the Omani Ministry of Information for comment but did not receive any response.