Middle EastWorld

Oman newspaper closed down for insulting judges

DUBAI: A privately owned newspaper in Oman said on its website yesterday it had been suspended from publishing, a day after the government said it had “taken measures” against a paper for insulting the judiciary, without naming the publication. The editor of the Arabic language daily Azaman was detained almost two weeks ago over an article alleging an official had tried to influence a court ruling, the Committee to Protect Journalists cited the newspaper as saying. A staff member confirmed Ibrahim Al-Mamari was still in detention.

In a statement published by state news agency ONA late on Tuesday, the government said that the newspaper had “not only exceeded the limits of freedom of speech, but drifted into … harming one of the pillars of the state, the judiciary”. The government said it had taken unspecified measures “that would safeguard the judiciary and protect it from those who wanted to abuse,” according to the statement.

The statement did not identify the newspaper and did not explain the action taken. An Azaman employee said the order to close did not “give a clear reason, nor a time frame for the publication ban”. Azamn’s corruption coverage in 2014 led to a number of convictions of senior officials and company executives. In 2011, a court issued a decision ordering the newspaper closed down for a month and Mamari and a reporter were given five-month suspended jail sentences for insulting the justice minister and other officials.

Meanwhile, rights campaigners called yesterday for international pressure on Oman to protect press freedom. The Gulf Center for Human Rights said Oman’s information ministry had ordered Azaman, including its online edition, be shut down indefinitely. The center said Maamari was being held along with two detained colleagues, Zaher Al-Abri and Yousef Al-Haj. They are not allowed to contact their families or lawyers, it said. The newspaper’s website yesterday displayed pictures of the three journalists along with a short notice that publication had been suspended. “The arrests appear to signify a worrying escalation of the authorities’ clampdown on freedom of expression. The message to journalists in Oman is clear: Criticizing the judiciary is off limits,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

The Gulf Center for Human Rights urged the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, Britain and other governments “to act immediately in order to protect press freedom in the country and ensure the release of the detained journalists”. Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) last week condemned the detention of Maamari and called for his immediate release. Oman is ranked 125th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index. – Agencies

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