* Note, independent newspaper Al-Zaman was ordered shut-down for 1 month for publishing an article alleging corruption in the Ministry of Justice on 15 August 2011. The article's author, prominent Omani journalist and film maker Youssef al-Haj, and his Editor and source in the Ministry were arrested, interrogated, and sentenced to 6 months in prison.
This new law is lazy, even by Oman's typically vague and broad legislative standards. Hell, it makes it illegal to publish (quote) "anything" which "may" bear on internal or external security. Reading the law in translation, it appears to make saying essentially anything at all even remotely to do with Omani Government arguably illegal. This is sloppy, lazy law making. No definition of terms, no exclusions, and creating a broad crime whose very definition is subject to the opinion of someone in the Government.
This is unfortunately fully consistent with the Basic Law of Oman, namely:
Article 29 [Expression]
Freedom of opinion and expression, whether spoken, written or in other forms, is guaranteed within the limits of the Law. [my emphasis]
IE, Omanis quite legally have no freedom of expression, because so many laws make almost any public expression not just illegal but criminal. Those arrested Al-Zaman journalists are about to find out how the lottery of Omani publication law works. (see earlier post here). I suppose if they are found guilty they will be beholding to an appeal for clemency from HM. This is not the way to run a legal system.
This was an opportunity wasted; a chance to update the laws involved with publishing - press, TV, radio, internet - in a systematic, competent, comprehensive way. Preferably involving independent review (eg, the Majlis Al Shura) and public comment.
Instead we get another of these vague & ill defined statements of good intent that will in reality be used as further restraints on constructive public dialogue of real issues. Another law that Government functionaries can hide behind and avoid scrutiny.
It will be very interesting to see what happens at the Appeal.
ONA issued the new law.
Decree amends publication law.
His Majesty Sultan Qaboos has issued Royal Decree No 95/2011 amending some provisions of the Law of Publications and Publishing. Article 1 stipulates that Article 26 of the said Publications and Publishing Law shall be replaced with the following text: “Article 26: It is prohibited to publish anything which may prejudice the safety of the state or its internal or external security or all that relates to military and security apparatuses, their bylaws and internal regulations, any documents or information or news or official secret communications, either by publication through visual, audio or print media or through the Internet or any means of the information technology unless a permission is obtained from the competent authority.
It is also prohibited to publish the wordings of the agreements and treaties concluded by the government before they are published in the official gazette.