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Ciaro 7 March 2009

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information expressed great concern today over the trail of the Omani journalist and internet activist Ali al-Zwaidi who allegedly violated article 61 of the Omani communications law. The crime is up to a year in prison and one thousand Omani riyals, about $2600, in punishment. A supervisor in a discussion forum (Sablat Oman), in August 2008 al-Zwaidi allowed the publication of an article dealing with suspicions of corruption in the Omani telecommunications company Omantel, based on a complaint filed by the executive manager of the company Mohammed Bin Ali al-Wuhaibi.

The story goes back to last August when al-Zwaidi, one of Sablat Oman, http://www.omania2.net/avb/index.php, supervisors, published an article in English dealing with corruption suspicions in Omantel Telecommunications Company. While officials in the forum removed the article because he signed “from anonymous writer”, al-Zwaidi was interrogated last August by the prosecution. Al-Zwaidi and other internet activist thought it was over until he was arraigned on 24 Feb 2009. The trail was postponed to 17 March.

Article 61 of the Omani telecommunications law, after being amended in 2008, stipulates that:
“punished by prison for more than one year, and a fine of not more than 1000 Omani riyals , or with one of them :

1- Anyone who uses a system on a device or a means of communication to direct a message while knowing it is untrue or causes harm to a person or a service”

ANHRI said it is evident that the case is a settlement of accounts and a punishment for al-Zwaidi who kept expressing his opinion and criticizing the government and the telecommunication sector which many internet activists complain its bad service. The case is nothing but an instrument for that, ANHRI added.

Al-Zwaidi is a writer in many Omani journal since1986, including Oman, al-Watan journals and al-Omaniah magazine. In addition he is a veteran internet activist, especially in forums visited by many internet activists in Oman as an available widespread means for expression added to blogs which are rising in number.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information said the Omani authority should have made an interrogation into the contents of the article in question, along with topics which internet activists keep writing in criticism of Omantel. Freedom of expression means accepting and discussing criticisms instead of punishing critics, ANHRI added.

More information on internet in Oman:
Implacable Adversary report: http://www.openarab.net/en/node/357
Oman section on ANHRI: http://www.anhri.net/oman