On 28 July 2016, security forces arrested Ibrahim Al-Maamari, Editor-in-Chief of “Azamn”. On 03 August 2016, the Internal Security Service (ISS) summoned Zaher Al-Abri, member of the editorial committee to appear before the Special Division, and detained him upon arrival. On 09 August 2016, an official source said the Omani government has taken all “suitable legal procedures” against “Azamn” newspaper, including ordering the newspaper closed indefinitely. The ISS also arrested Yousef Al-Haj, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper.
The successive arrests and closure of the newspaper are the result of its news article published on 26 July 2016 entitled “Supreme bodies tie the hands of justice,” which led to the paper being targeted by security forces. On 30 July 2016, an official source from the Public Prosecutor gave statements to the local press in which he said the reason for the arrests was the news article published by “Azamn” which referred to the corruption of senior officials and their interference in judicial decisions.
On 26 September 2016, the Court of First Instance in Muscat sentenced Ibrahim Al-Maamari, Yousef Al-Haj, and Zaher Al-Abri, to prison and ordered the newspaper to close permanently. It was the final hearing in the trial.
Ibrahim Al-Maamari was convicted of four charges – “disturbing public order, misuse of the Internet, publishing details of a civil case, and undermining the prestige of the state.” He was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, in addition to a fine of 3000 RO (US $7,800) and a ban on working as a journalist for one year.Yousef Al-Haj was also sentenced to three years in prison in addition to a fine of 3000 RO (US $7,800). He was also banned from working as a journalist for a period of one year. He was convicted of six counts of “breach of public order, misuse of the Internet, undermining the prestige of the state, publishing details of a civil case, publishing about a case for which a decree had been issued to ban news about it, and slander.”Zaher Al-Abri was sentenced to one-year imprisonment and fined a thousand Omani riyals (US $2600) after being found guilty of using “an information network [the Internet] for the dissemination of material that might be prejudicial to public order.” His bail was set at 5000 Omani Rials (US $13000), and he was already released on 22 August 2016.
At a hearing held on 26 December 2016, the Court of Appeal acquitted Zaher Al-Abriwhile sentencing Yousef Al-Haj to one year in prison and Ibrahim Al-Maamarito six months in prison, to include the time they have spent in detention. The court also revoked the decision to shut down “Azamn” newspaper which was issued by the Ministry of Information.
On 10 April 2017, Ibrahim Al-Maamariwas released from the Central Prison in Muscat,after serving his six-month sentence.Thus, only Yousef Al-Haj remained in prison pending the completion of his sentence, which is one year in prison.
On 08 January 2017, the Minister of Information issued a directive that extended the closure of “Azamn” for another three months – despite the decision mentioned above by the Court of Appeal to allow the newspaper to open again. On 08 May 2017, the Minster of Information issued another directive that has his signature in which he extended the closure of “Azamn” to another three months – challenging again the Court of Appeal decision to allow the newspaper to open again.
“Azamn” is regarded as an independent newspaper, which has been characterised by fighting corruption through reporting on it since its establishment in 2007, and has received the full solidarity of human rights organisations and the international human rights movement.
The Campaign of “Supporting Human Rights Defenders and Freedom of Expression.” was launched last February 2017 and the first nominee was prominent woman human rights defender and brave Tunisian journalist Naziha Rjiba (also known as “Om Zied”). She was followed by prominent human rights defender and blogger Ahmed Mansoor from the United Arab Emirates, who has been arbitrarily detained since 20 March 2017. Prominent human rights lawyer Gamal Eid from Egypt was chosen as a defender of human rights and freedom of expression for April 2017. Then prominent human rights defender Hanaa Edwarof Iraq was the fourth human rights defender selected in May 2017.
For more information on how to take part in this campaign please visit the websites of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) – http://www.anhri.net, Maharat News www.maharat-news.com and Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) – www.gc4hr.org.