The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and the Omani Association for Human Rights (OAHR) declare their full solidarity with journalist and human rights defender Mukhtar Al-Hinai, as he faces a trial tomorrow that threatens to deprive him of his right to independent journalistic work. His trial is highly indicative of the perilous situation facing freedom of the press in Oman.
On 09 March 2022, Al-Hinai posted on his Twitter account the following tweet: “The Muscat Court has issued a ruling convicting 8 defendants of a felony of embezzlement and forgery… that occurred in one of the ministries.”
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 for trial under Article 249 of the Omani Penal Code, which provides for 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 that are under embargo by the court. Also, in other arbitrary measures, he was informed that he has been placed under a travel ban and was forced to immediately delete his tweet at the end of the investigation.
The first session of his trial was scheduled to take place before the Muscat Court of First Instance on 08 May 2022, but he received a phone call informing him that his trial had been postponed until 19 June 2022. This was followed by the pleading session held on 21 June 2022. Upon conclusion of the pleadings, the court announced that it would issue its final verdict on 17 July 2022, in a case whose ruling will have significant implications for freedom of journalism in the country.
The trial was marred by serious violations of due process and fair trial standards, including the insistence of the Public Prosecution Department to refer the case to trial and issue a travel ban, despite the absence of a formal complaint from any party. Furthermore, the tweet which was the source of the case was not reported to have caused any material or moral harm to anyone. All of this is evidence of a systematic pattern of targeting independent young journalists and has the effect of intimidating all Internet activists who exercise their legitimate right to express their opinions about public affairs or criticise the government’s poor performance.
The GCHR and the OAHR believe that the completion of the trial at remarkable speed and within just a few weeks leaves no doubt that influential figures in the state as well as the Internal Security Service are using the judiciary as a means of repression to silence dissenting views. This represents a continuation of the systematic pattern in recent years of directly targeting human rights defenders, including bloggers, journalists and Internet activists, and reflects the entrenched repressive mentality of the highest authorities in the country.
The GCHR and the OAHR call on the authorities in Oman to discontinue the trial of journalist and human rights defender Mukhtar Al-Hinai, and drop all false charges against him. The authorities in Oman should protect freedom of the press in the country, as well as freedom of expression on the Internet. The authorities should ensure in all circumstances that human rights defenders and journalists in Oman are able to carry out their legitimate human rights work without fear of reprisals and without significant restrictions, including judicial harassment.
The GCHR and the OAHR also call on the international human rights movement to declare full solidarity with Al-Hinai and demand an immediate end to his unfair trial.