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Two Omani journalists released on bail pending trial

Oman ranks 125th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2016 World Press Freedom Index [arabianEye]

Date of publication: 12 October, 2016

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Two Omani journalists have been released on bail pending trial in connection with their coverage of a case of alleged judicial corruption.

An Omani court has released two journalists pending an appeal after they were given jail sentences for "undermining the state", a colleague said on Tuesday.

Azamn newspaper editor-in-chief Ibrahim al-Maamari and his deputy Yousef al-Haj - each sentenced to three years in jail - were freed late on Monday, said Zaher al-Abri, a third defendant who had already been released.

They paid 2,000 rials ($5,195) each in bail money pending the hearing on 7 November, he said.

Paris-based media rights group Reporters without Borders (RSF) said the court had reduced the bail amount from 50,000 rials ($130,000) each.

Abri was jailed for one year and fined 1,000 rials ($2,600), but he was released on bail in August, according to RSF.

The trio were arrested in connection with their coverage of a case of alleged judicial corruption, RSF said.

Based on the charge sheet read out in court, the journalists were convicted of disturbing the public order, undermining the prestige of the state and misusing the internet, sources said.

Haj was convicted for publishing an interview with a senior judiciary official even after being ordered not to do so.

Maamari was the first of the three to be arrested on 28 July; two days after the newspaper published an article that accused public officials of corruption and interference in judicial decisions.

Authorities later detained his two colleagues.

"These three journalists have been released provisionally but they are guilty of no crime so the authorities should overturn their conviction and allow the newspaper to resume publishing," said RSF's head of Middle East bureau Alexandra al-Khazen.

Their newspaper remains shut after the court last month upheld a government order to permanently close it.

International condemnation

Rights groups have condemned the closure of the newspaper and urged the international community to protect freedom of the press in Oman.

"Hauling journalists off to prison for alleging authorities' potential abuse of power completely undermines Oman's claims to respect free expression," Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in August.

"Omani authorities should rescind the government closure of Azamn newspaper, and either release the three Azamn journalists or promptly bring recognizable criminal charges against them, and guarantee them a fair trial."

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights also 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".

Oman is ranked 125th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2016 World Press Freedom Index, which notes Syria, Sudan and Djibouti among the worst in the region.

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Agencies contributed to this report.

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