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Oman: Authorities must stop targeting journalist and human rights defender Mukhtar Al-Hinai

The Omani authorities continue to target human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers, and Internet activists in a systematic pattern that they have pursued for many years. Journalist and human rights defender Mukhtar Al-Hinai is subjected to a campaign of judicial harassment, in flagrant violation of his freedom of expression and jeopardising press freedom in Oman.

On 09 March 2022, Al-Hinai posted on his Twitter account the following statement, “The Muscat Court has issued a ruling convicting 8 defendants of a felony of embezzlement and forgery… that occurred in one of the ministries.”

Subsequently, on 15 March 2022, he was summoned by the Public Prosecution Department in Muscat to investigate this tweet. The investigation lasted two hours, after which he was informed that he had been referred to trial under Article 249 of the Omani Penal Code, which includes a prison sentence of no less than one month and no more than two years, and a fine of no less than one hundred (approx. 247 EUR) and no more than one thousand (approx. 2470 EUR) Omani riyals, for anyone who publishes rulings regarding the lawsuits that the court prevented them from publishing. Also, in another arbitrary measure, he was informed of his travel ban. He had to delete his tweet right after the investigation ended.

The Court scheduled the first session of his trial on 08 May 2022, but he received a second phone call informing him that his trial was postponed until 19 June 2022.

Reliable local sources confirmed that the lawsuit is a public one that was filed by the Public Prosecution, while other sources stated that the Ministry of Information had filed a judicial complaint against him.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Omani Association for Human Rights (OAHR) believe that the only reason for postponing his trial is because Oman is hosting the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)’s 31st Congress from 31 May to 03 June 2022 in the capital, Muscat, with the participation of more than 300 journalists representing more than 100 countries.

Al-Hinai is a well-known human rights defender, and one of the prominent activists of the 2011 mass popular protests. He was arrested several times after that, subjected to interrogation and targeting, yet he worked within the shrinking civic space in order to defend the civil and human rights of citizens.

GCHR and OAHR announce their full solidarity with journalist and human rights defender Mukhtar Al-Hinai and condemn the use of the judiciary to violate his rights. We call on all international mechanisms, including those of the United Nations, as well as the International Federation of Journalists, to exert their strenuous efforts to protect him and help put an end to the efforts of the authorities in Oman to silence him. We call for the lawsuit filed against him to be dismissed without conditions.

A fair judiciary can only be completely transparent when it comes to corruption in state departments and ministries, and in these cases, which are of public interest, the law should not be used to punish journalists who seek to reveal the truth to citizens.

The authorities in Oman should immediately stop their systematic campaign aimed at stifling the public freedoms of journalists and other citizens and severely restricting freedom of the press, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, and freedom of peaceful assembly. They must fulfill their obligations to protect civic space and not harass human rights defenders, including writers, journalists, and Internet activists.