DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An Oman court on Monday ruled in favor of a government decision to shut down al-Zaman daily newspaper and jail three of its journalists, including its editor-in-chief, for reporting on alleged corruption within the judiciary.
The director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, Khalid Ibrahim, told The Associated Press that the newspaper's editor-in-chief Ibrahim al-Maamari and deputy editor-in-chief Youssef al-Haj were sentenced to three years in prison on charges of disturbing public order, undermining the prestige of the state, misusing the internet to prejudice public order and publishing details of a personal status case.
Al-Haj was also found guilty of slander and violating an Information Ministry gag order relating to the al-Zaman editor-in-chief's arrest, according to the Times of Oman.
The third journalist, Zaher al-Abri, was sentenced to one year in prison and fined $2,600 for misusing the internet.
The three have been detained for more than a month. In August, the Information Ministry ordered the newspaper to stop publication.
The country's state-run news agency had previously issued a statement about the case without naming the newspaper. The statement said the newspaper had crossed the limits of free speech and published material in a way "that harms a pillar of the state."
Rights group Amnesty International criticized the verdict and joined others, including The Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, in calling for the journalists' "unconditional release."
Amnesty International's Oman researcher, Drewery Dyke, said in a statement that the journalists are being punished for carrying out legitimate work, calling it "a dangerous escalation of the authorities' attempts to stifle independent journalism."
According to the Gulf Center for Human Rights, if al-Haj or al-Abri want to appeal the verdict, they each have to pay an equivalent of $130,000 in addition to fines of $8,000 each.
Oman, a Gulf Arab country on the southeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, is a close U.S. ally and has been ruled by Sultan Qaboos bin Said since 1970. He is the Middle East's longest-reigning monarch.