Watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has appealed to Oman's Sultan Qaboos to release a journalist on trial over an article he wrote alleging corruption in the Ministry of Justice, the group said Saturday.
RSF "has written to Sultan Qaboos... expressing deep concern at tomorrow's (Sunday's) trial of Yousef al-Haj, a journalist with the Muscat-based daily Azzaman, as a result of a complaint by justice minister Mohamed al-Hanai about (an) article published on 14 May," it said.
In a letter sent on Thursday, RSF "voiced amazement at the range and scale of the charges brought against Haj in response to the article, which quoted a justice ministry employee's allegations about growing corruption within the ministry and favouritism in promotions."
The media rights group called for immediately withdrawing the proceedings which it said are "out of all proportion to the gravity of the offence."
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Haj was summoned for interrogation on July 5 and was charged with "insulting the justice ministry, insulting the justice minister and his under-secretary, trying to create divisions within Omani society, violating article 60 of the civil code (the publications law), (and) working as a journalist without a permit," RSF said.
The sultanate is also threatening to shut down the daily in connection with the same case, the Paris-based group added.
"It would be regrettable if the Omani courts upheld this decision, which would violate freedom of the press and would give credence to the journalist's allegedly defamatory claims," it added.
The president of Azzaman's board, its editor and one of its design editors will also be tried for "illegally employing Haj without a permit from the information ministry," RSF said.
Earlier this year, the normally peaceful sultanate was caught up in the protests sweeping the Arab world, with demonstrators taking to the streets in late February to call for better living conditions.
At the beginning of March, Sultan Qaboos announced a cabinet reshuffle and the creation of 50,000 jobs, while demonstrators have insisted their protests were aimed at "corrupt" officials and not at Qaboos, who has ruled for 40 years.