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Omani Supreme Court shuts down independent "Azamn" newspaper indefinitely

The chairman of the Arab World Institute (R), reads a newspaper outside the Maison de La France in Muscat, Oman, 11 February 2009
The chairman of the Arab World Institute (R), reads a newspaper outside the Maison de La France in Muscat, Oman, 11 February 2009

REUTERS/Gerard Cerles/Pool

This statement was originally published on on 8 October 2017.

The Supreme Court of Oman issued on Thursday, 5 October 2017, a final ruling on the closure of Azamn newspaper, ending the paper's fight to reopen and shuttering it permanently.

Azamn is regarded as an independent newspaper characterised by its anti-corruption reporting since its establishment in 2007. It has been closed since August 2016 when it published an article that led to two of its editors and a journalist being jailed.

Azamn published an article on 26 July 2016 entitled "Supreme bodies tie the hands of justice," which referred to the corruption of senior officials and their interference in judicial decisions.

On 28 July 2016, security forces arrested Ibrahim Al-Maamari, Editor-in-Chief of Azamn. On 3 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 9 August 2016, an official source said the Omani government had 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.

On 26 September 2016, the Court of First Instance in Muscat sentenced Al-Maamari, Al-Haj, and Al-Abri to prison and ordered the newspaper to close permanently. At a hearing held on 26 December 2016, the Court of Appeal in Muscat acquitted Al-Abri while sentencing Al-Haj to one year in prison and Al-Maamari to six months in prison, to include the time they had spent in detention. The court also revoked the decision to shut down Azamn newspaper which was issued by the Ministry of Information.

On 8 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 8 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.

According to reports received by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), the Public Prosecution challenged the Court of Appeal's ruling at the Supreme Court, which in turn issued this decision without deliberation or hearing. Therefore, the new ruling of the Supreme Court contradicts the judgement of the Court of Appeal in Muscat of 26 December to revoke the decision to shut down the newspaper.

It should be noted that the President of the Supreme Court and the Deputy Supreme Judicial Council Isaac Al-Bousaidi was named in the article which led to the initial closure of the newspaper. This creates a clear conflict of interest and does not adhere to international standards for fair trial and due process, which would be hindered by a lack of independence of the judiciary.

Ibrahim Al-Maamari was released on 10 April 2017 while Yousef Al-Haj is still in prison and will be released on 23 October 2017.

GCHR strongly condemns the Supreme Court's ruling that shuts down Azamn newspaper, one of Oman's few independent news sources.

GCHR calls on the authorities in Oman to:

- Retry the case of Azamn newspaper at the Supreme Court, during which Judge Isaac Al-Bousaidi is recused;
- Adhere to the Court of Appeal order to re-open Azamn newspaper;
- Guarantee that journalists and independent media in Oman are able to function freely, and that freedom of expression in Oman is respected according to international standards, including Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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