Oman's first independent online newspaper, Albalad, put an end to its operations on October 30.
— صحيفة البلد (@albaladoman) October 30, 2016
The management of Albalad newspaper announces the closure of its news site…goodbye dear readers.
The newspaper launched in 2012 and covered a range of topics in Oman including politics, economy and culture. Editorial staff have not specified the reason behind the closure.
In a message addressed to their readers, they described pressures they had faced in the past, but said that they decided to stop “of [their] own accord.”
تعرضت الصحيفة للكثير من الضغوط…وكانت كل تلك الضغوط تمر علينا، ونحتفظ بها لأنفسنا، لأنها جزء من مهنة الصحافة، ومن خصوصية العمل، بقت معنا خلال السنوات الماضية. لكننا نقف اليوم في لحظة صعبة، أن نتخذ قرار الإغلاق دون أن نكون تحت ضغط من أحد، إنه قرار نابع من إدارة وفريق هذا المشروع الذي عمل ليل نهار لأجل القارئ العزيز. إننا نعتذر بشدة للجمهور والقارئ العزيز عن هذا القرار … لكن الظروف الراهنة تقول: ” حان لها أن تتوقف بإرادة تامة”.
the newspaper came under a lot of pressures…We kept those pressures to ourselves, since they are part of the journalism profession and a characteristic of the job. Those pressures remained with us. But, today we stand in front of a difficult moment: making the closure decision without being subjected to pressure from anyone. It is a decision made by the management and the team of this project that worked day and night for our dear readers…We sincerely apologize to our audience but the current circumstances say: “it is time we stop of our own accord”
Following Albalad's closure announcement, Omanis on Twitter mourned the decision and the state of free expression in the country.
@albaladoman البلد تغلق … ما الذي يحدث بمستقبل الصحافة في عمان .
— احمد الشيزاوي (@ahmedalshezawi) October 30, 2016
Albalad closes…What is happening to the future of the press in Oman.
— qatan ✋ (@y3een77) October 30, 2016
unfortunately, we do not have a free voice or a platform for a free press or free expression. In brief, there is no freedom of speech. We are in the 21st century what a shame.
Albalad's closure coincides with a broader crackdown on press freedom in Oman. Last August, the government closed the daily newspaper Alzamn and suspended its website over a report on government interference with the judiciary. The 27 July report accused government officials of pressuring judges in the country's Supreme Court to overturn a verdict in an inheritance case. Three of Azamn's journalists, including its editor in-chief, were detained and sentenced to jail for charges that included “disturbing public order” and “undermining the prestige of the State”.
The shutdown at Alzamn
Editor-in-chief Ibrahim Al-Maamari was found guilty of “disturbing public order”, “misuse of the Internet” “publishing the details of a civil case”, and “undermining the prestige of the state”. He was sentenced to three years in prison, and a fine of 3,000 Omani Riyals (US $7,800). He was also banned from working as a journalist for a period of one year.
Editorial secretary Yousef Al-Haj was convicted of “breaching public order”, “misusing the Internet”, “undermining the prestige of the state”, “publishing the details of a civil case”, violating a media coverage ban and slander. He was also sentenced to three years in jail, a fine of 3,000 Omani Riyals, and banned from working as a journalist for a year.
Reporter Zaher Al-Abri was sentenced to one-year in jail and fined a thousand Omani riyals (US $2600) for using “an information network for the dissemination of material that might be prejudicial to public order”.
Source: the Gulf Center for Human Rights
Earlier this year, another independent media outlet, Mowatin, stopped publishing “until further notice”. In a brief statement issued on 14 January, the magazine referred to “circumstances beyond its control”, in particular its desire to “guarantee the safety” of its journalists and writers. According to the Gulf Center for Human Rights, the magazine was facing “consistent harassment” from the Internal Security Services (ISS), the country's national security intelligence agency.
A stable and small country of four million people, famous for its natural wonders, the Sultanate of Oman “has one of the most restrictive” legal frameworks governing press freedom in the Arab region, according to the 2015 Freedom on the Press report. Is the closure of three independent media this year the final blow to press freedom in Oman?