Three newspaper staff charged in Oman court

AFP , Sunday 14 Aug 2011

Omani newspaper staff are charged with insulting the country's minister of justice and his under-secretary, with their paper ordered to shut down for printing an article accusing the ministry of corruption

The Omani public prosecutor's office called on Sunday for the conviction of three local newspaper employees on charges of insulting the justice minister and called for their daily to be shut down.

Azzaman's board president Ibrahim al-Maamari, editor Yousef al-Haj and a design chief, Haron Saeed, appeared in a Muscat court over a May 14 article in which Haj alleged corruption at the justice ministry.

The prosecution charged the three men with "insulting the justice minister and his undersecretary" and of "using fraud, deception and stalling methods," an AFP journalist said.

Haj was also accused of "working as a journalist without a permit," while the paper itself should be closed for having "published false and misleading information."

The trial was adjourned until August 28 to "allow defence lawyers to study the case file," the judge said, ordering the daily "not to publish the events of the hearings."

Watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on Saturday it has written to Oman's ruler, Sultan Qaboos, "expressing deep concern" at the trial.

"It would be regrettable if the Omani courts upheld this decision, which would violate freedom of the press and would give credence to the journalist's allegedly defamatory claims," the Paris-based group said.

The normally peaceful sultanate was caught up earlier this year in the protests sweeping the Arab world, with demonstrators taking to the streets in late February to demand improved living conditions.

At the start of March, Sultan Qaboos announced a cabinet reshuffle and the creation of 50,000 jobs. Demonstrators insisted their protests were aimed at "corrupt" officials and not at Qaboos, who has ruled for 40 years.

Short link: