Tuesday, October 11, 2011

'Just in time' change in Oman's Publication Law? Another botched job.

Oman often has a very ad-hoc way of developing legislation. A couple of days ago, HM's Government issued an update to Article 26 of the Publishing law. It seems more than co-incidental that on the 15th October the Appeal case will be held for the local journalists sentenced to 6 months in prison (they're out on bail right now) for 'insulting'* the Minister & Ministry of Justice (yes, really. That's a criminal offense in Oman). I would expect this new law should not apply to their Appeal (ex-post facto / retrospective legislation anyone?), but I guess it does send a message to the Judges!

* 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.




  1. Dragon

    Maybe they should call it the 'Wikileaks' amendment!


  2. Has anybody got a copy of the video taken on Monday of the ROP riot squad gassing the teachers in Shinas?
    I think it was on the sabla.

  3. When can we expect to see Google Earth blocked? Lots to see on there that has to do with internal and external security...


  4. hi

    with this it should be clear that our MAN is not really interested in advancing the country more than trying to protect his interests. Or he's really in a circle that have strong interests in keeping the country in a "owner-farm" state.

    God bless Oman!

  5. There are no libel laws in any other countries then? Oh..wait...

    True, Oman's unusual in that libel and slander are criminal rather that civil issues, but considering the number of people who make complaints under those laws (and by no means just bigshots), it doesn't seem to be an unpopular arrangement.

    As for this amendment, what strikes me about it most is that it's redundant: laws on insulting a person already exist, for instance. And the "Basic Law" in one sense already says simply that "everything's allowed except where it isn't". So my only issue is...why bother?

  6. Oops...wrong bit: I'm mixing up my replies. Regarding this one, don't most countries have laws against publishing state secrets, or sectarian/racist hate speech? I think so.

    Badly written maybe, but nothing surprising or unusual.

  7. DIRECTORATEs such as these are written purely for the benefit of the public in Oman. OF course anyone with a MORAL objection to what has been decreed is welcome to approach us for GUIDANCE.


  8. It is unwise to critically analyse laws without having a decent understanding of the context including the culture. For those who do not understand why insulting or spreading scandals about anyone is illegal in Oman should go and search in Islam. Insults and scandals are more devastating than they are helpful. We like maintaining good relationships and instead of publishing scandals we prefer face-saving and advising. If you are thinking that this is wrong...well its because you come from a culture that has different values and norms. Sometimes what is right in your country could be wrong in ours and vice versa.

    Taking the environmental changes into consideration and the culture, I see nothing wrong with the laws and the changes. They are context-specific and for the purpose of ensuring stability in times of turbulence and external conspiracies.


If you wish to post anonymously, please pick a nickname by selecting the Name/URL option, or at least sign off your comment with one! I will delete comments I find objectionable or needlessly inflammatory. Sorry for the word verification.... OMG the spam has gotten BAD these past 12 months... trying to avoid making one log in...