Omani journalists sentenced for alleging corruption

The Omani authorities must immediately drop the case against two newspaper journalists sentenced to five months in prison for “insulting” the country’s justice minister, Amnesty International said today.A court in the capital Muscat also ordered the closure of Yusuf al-Haj and Ibrahim al-Maamary’s newspaper, Azzamn, for one month.“The ruling is a blow to all journalists and represents a low point for Oman’s judiciary,” Yusuf al-Haj, who wrote an article alleging fraud and corruption inside the Ministry of Justice, told Amnesty International.“This is a political trial aimed at silencing all Oman’s journalists,” he added.An employee of the Justice Ministry, Haroon al-Muqaibli, who leaked the information to the paper, was also sentenced to five months in prison.“These three men have been sentenced merely for reporting on allegations which are in the public interest in Oman. The court must drop the case against them and halt the planned suspension of the Azzamn newspaper,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. The three have all appealed their convictions and are currently awaiting an appeal hearing on 15 October.“If the three men’s sentences are upheld and they are imprisoned, Amnesty International would consider them to be prisoners of conscience and call for their immediate and unconditional release,” added Philip Luther.Oman was caught up in pro-reform protests earlier this year, when thousands of demonstrators took to the streets demanding improved living conditions, an end to corruption, and greater freedom of expression.In February and March, Oman’s head of state, Sultan Qaboos, conceded to some demands, including creating more jobs, increasing unemployment benefits and sacking several ministers in his cabinet.