Oman closes down newspaper, journalists held: Amnesty International

August 10, 2016 7:21 AM EDT

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DUBAI (Reuters) - Omani authorities have closed down a privately owned newspaper after detaining three of its journalists over its reporting on alleged corruption within the judiciary, an international watchdog said on Wednesday.

The report came one day after the Omani government said it had taken unspecified action against a newspaper for insulting the judiciary. The government did not identify the newspaper and did not elaborate on the measures taken.

The Arabic-language Azamn had extensively covered a series of corruption cases in 2014 in which several company executives and company officials were convicted and jailed or fined,

Amnesty International said in a statement that Azamn and its online news site were closed on Tuesday after the newspaper's Deputy Editor in Chief, Youssef al-Haj, was arrested.

He was the third Azamn journalist to be arrested since authorities detained the editor-in-chief and founder Ibrahim al-Mamari, on July 28.

"It appears that the journalists from Azamn are being punished for carrying out their legitimate journalistic work," Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, said in a statement.

"Criticizing the judiciary or reporting allegations of suspected corruption is not a crime. If they are being detained solely in connection with their journalistic work, Oman’s authorities must immediately release them," she added.

A staff member confirmed Ibrahim al-Mamari was still in detention, along with another journalist who was detained last week.

In a statement published by state news agency ONA late on Tuesday, the government said that a newspaper had "not only exceeded the limits of freedom of speech, but drifted into ... harming one of the pillars of the state, the judiciary."

The government said it had taken unspecified measures to safeguard the judiciary and protect it from those who wanted to abuse it, the statement said.

The statement did not identify the newspaper and did not explain the action taken. But the newspaper's website on Wednesday displayed a message stating "Azamn suspended from publishing".

An employee said the order to close did not "give a clear reason, nor the a time frame for the publication ban".

In 2011, a court issued a decision ordering the newspaper closed down for a month and Mamari and a reporter were given five-month suspended jail sentences for insulting the justice minister and other officials.

(Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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