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Omani editor marks one year in jail for critical article

Haj has been in jail for one year [Getty-file photo]

Date of publication: 10 August, 2017

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An Omani editor has been in jail for one year, after articles were published criticising the country's judiciary.

Supporters of a jailed Omani editor marked one year in prison, with human rights groups calling for his immediate release.

Yusuf al-Haj was arrested after an article was published last year in the Omani newspaper Azamn entitled "Higher authorities tie the hands of justice", which was critical of the country's judiciary. He, however, remains in custody.

Haj was arrested hours after the publication of a second article that contined to call into question the judiciary's independence, while authorities closed Azamn.

Human Rights Watch - who have been following the deputy editor's case - have said the Omani government should rethink its decision.

"The Azamn newspaper case shows the extent of the threat against activists who seek to expose government corruption in Oman," said Human Rights Watch Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson.

"Oman should allow Azamn to start publishing again, free its deputy editor Yousef al-Haj immediately, and stop trying to silence critics of the government."

Haj's case rests on an article last year that officials in the justice ministry had undermined the judiciary's independence. 

An interview with the Oman Supreme Court Vice-President Ali bin Salem al-Noamani - in which he backed the allegations - shortly after was later published.

It led to Haj's arrest hours after at a barbers by internal security agents. Two other editors were arrested who have since been released.

Haj was charged with "disturbing public order", "misusing the internet", "publishing details of a civil case", and "undermining the prestige of the state". He was sentenced to three years in jail - later reduced to one year on appeal - and given a 3,000 Omani rial ($7,800) fine.

Azamn and Haj have run into trouble with authorities before. In 2011, the editor was sentenced to five months in jail and the Omani newspaper closed for a month on charges of "defaming" and "insulting the dignity" of the justice minister and his deputy. 

Human Rights Defenders said he was held in solitary confinement for 60 days during his incarceration.

Oman witnessed a number of demonstrations during the 2011 Arab Spring, which saw violent clashes break out in a northern Omani city. Like other countries in the Gulf, Oman has clamped down on dissent over the past six years.

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