Dubai: The Muscat Court of Appeals ordered the release of two Omani journalists — Ebrahim Al Mamari and Yousuf Al Haj, editor-in-chief and editor, respectively, of Azzaman newspaper — on a bail of 2,000 riyals each, instead of 50,000 riyals ordered earlier.
In September, the court had upheld a government order to permanently close Azzaman newspaper and jailed three of its journalists for undermining the state.
Al Mamari, Al Haj and Zahir Al Abri, reporter, were held in detention for more than a month before the trial after the daily published reports in July that alleged corruption in the country’s judicial system.
Based on the charges read at court, the three were convicted of disturbing public order, undermining the prestige of the state, and misusing the internet, the sources said.
The court sentenced Al Mamari, Al Haj and Al Abri to a prison sentence of one year each. The court also fined Al Mamari and Al Haj 3,000 riyals (Dh28,616) each, and Al Abri 1,000 riyals. It also ordered Azzaman to close its offices permanently.
Al Abri was released on a 5,000-riyal bail earlier this month. The final hearing for Azzaman’s journalists will be held on November 7, according to defence lawyer Yaqoob Al Harthi.
The case, which has polarised public opinion in Oman, has garnered regional and international attention.
In August, the Oman government ordered Azzaman to close its offices after it published two reports accusing top officials in the government of pressuring the judiciary to change a ruling in an inheritance case.
The government argued, in a statement run by the state-run news agency ONA, that the newspaper violated freedom of expression by publishing the reports.
The government promised legal action against the journalists but said freedom of expression “remains an authentic value that cannot be evaded and that freedom of expression should become a responsible action that is not motivated by any personal impulses”.
The daily published on July 27 a story titled ‘Supreme bodies tie the hands of justice’, accusing government officials of pressuring Supreme Court judges to overturn a decision in the inheritance case.
Al Haj interviewed the vice-president of the Supreme Court who said that the judiciary was in a “pitiful state” and there were many violations.
Speaking to Al Hayat newspaper, a top Omani official said that newspapers were publishing such news after the government suspended financial support to local newspapers due to an economic crisis caused by the slump in oil prices.