Oman: Journalist Yousuf Al Haj Arbitrarily Detained After Unfair Trial

Yousuf Al Haj يوسف الحاج

Yousuf Al Haj is an Omani journalist, who worked for the now banned Al Zaman newspaper. He was arrested in August 2016 and had first been sentenced to three years in prison on 25 September 2016. In December 2016, his sentence was reduced on appeal to one year in prison. Nevertheless, given the fact that Mr Al Haj has been prosecuted and sentenced as a result of exercising his fundamental right to freedom of expression and in view of the violations to fair trail guarantees that occurred during his trial, his deprivation of liberty is arbitrary.

Yousuf Al Haj was arrested on 9 August 2016 after he had published an article entitled “Supreme bodies tie the hands of justice” revealing the manipulation and corruption of Oman’s Supreme Court with regards to an inheritance case. Al Haj was arrested without a warrant and without being informed of the charges against him. Until the start of his trial on 15 August 2016, Yousuf Al Haj had been denied the right to contact and confer with his lawyer. He was also detained in solitary confinement until 25 September 2016, when he was sentenced by the court of first instance of Muscatto three years in prison for inter alia “undermining the status and the prestige of the State”, “publishing what might be prejudicial to public security” and “contempt for the judiciary.”

Al Haj appealed his sentence and on 26 December 2016, the court of appeal upheld his conviction but reduced his sentence to one year in prison.

Yousuf Al Haj was tried along with two of his colleagues from Al Zaman. The case of all three individuals was intertwined with that of the newspaper, which was ordered shut and remains closed to this day. The charges and the conviction of Yousuf Al Haj are directly linked to the article published by the newspaper, which uncovers corruption. In his report to the Commission on Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression (SRFRDX) stressed that “no restriction to [print-media] can be justified on the grounds of national security when it is actually intended to protect a government from embarrassment or exposure of wrongdoing or to conceal information about the functioning of public institutions.” Al Haj’s prosecution is therefore restrictive of his fundamental right to freedom of expression.

Alkarama therefore submitted on 22 March 2017 the case of Yousuf Al Haj to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) asking for an opinion to be issued on the arbitrary nature  of his detention and asking them to call the Omani authorities to immediately release him.

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