Omani Blogger Trial – Backstory

12 04 2009

For late joiners, (see previous post) what actually happened was that in July 2008, an anonymous poster posted a post (repeat that) on OmanForum detailing the management restructuring of Omantel. He/she then pushed the matter a bit more by making defamatory remarks and raising allegations about the principles and reasons of the restructuring. OmanForum’s administrator, Muscati, being as knowing as he is, deleted the post. The Internet, being naughty as it is, made copies of the post & one of these copies appeared in an arabic forum, Sabla Oman. Ali al-Zuwahiry was/is the moderator of Sabla Oman.

This was on 20th August 2008. Since Sabla Oman is an arabic forum & the post was in English, Ali removed the post on the grounds of incorrect language.

Then it gets interesting.

Other site members (and possibly other moderators) asked for the post’s restoration & Ali restored the post with an explanation of deletion saying “I initially blocked the topic because it was written in English, but after reviewing the issue with one of the brothers, I decided to open it and keep it while inviting anybody to translate the topic so that all can view it.” Thus the post was restored. I’m not sure whether it was translated or not (I think it was), but then soon after, the website admins removed the post on grounds of it content being allegatory (sp?).

After that, the CEO of OmanMobile complained to the office of the Public Prosecutor & they invoked section 61(4) of the Telecom Law & arrested Ali for bringing back the post/thread after locking it.

There are many many interesting aspects of this case. The post made by the anonymous poster (by the handle BoozeAllen) made allegations & defamed a company & a person. One of those people (CEO Oman Mobile) made a case and got a trial started. Recently, he resigned, citing personal reasons. Whether this is related in any way to Ali, I don’t think so. Whether t

his will have an effect on proceedings or not, time will tell.

And then there is the matter of the leaked memo, which is a ‘real bad’ thing for anyone to be involved in. Allegedly, a memo by the (THE) Ministers’ Council was seen, which commented on the closing down of public phone calls to a popular arabic radio show on Shabab FM. The main theme of this show was public talks and comments on governance. Allegedly, Ali was somehow involved in it and an issue of breach of employer trust has ensued. The common concept is that that is the reason for Ali’s prosecution, using the Sablat forum incident as a front. Which might be true, might not. But it certainly is interesting to see what happens, because the Telecom Law (which was revised in 2000; with the help of the Egyptian Govt. no less!. And the higlight is that it was revised to “liberise” the Oman telecom industry. Wow! Well, Article 61 does ‘liberise’ all commentors!!) is being actually tested for the 1st time. Generally, laws are issued in ‘legalese’ to cover all possible aspects of a case, but here generally laws are issued and the ‘spirit’ of the law is followed as enforced by the law regulators. Targetted,

specific, nitty gritty examination under a magnifying glass is generally not a good idea.

Especially with the Office of the Public Prosecutor on the other side.

Excellent resources for more reading: Muscati’s post, Muscati’s post on A61, BlueChi’s post, another (as ITLawyer).

Excellent writeup on defamation law in general by IT Lawyer.

-The Fark Knight

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3 responses

12 04 2009
muscati

As I understand it, in the second case Ali is accused of “leak of confidential government documents”. The circular from the Cabinet to all the the ministries and government offices had instructions on the operation of the morning program on Shabab FM and who is authorized to reply to the station to answer the questions brought forward by the citizens. One thing the circular did was to instruct the FM that the calls may no longer be broadcast live. Instead, the calls are recorded off-air and then broadcase after the screening as if they were done live. The circular also instructed the presenters of the show not to comment or lead the callers on. They should just take the call and then find someone from a relevant ministry to reply. The circular, which was widely leaked because it had apparently gone to all minsitries and circulated to all those with grades of DG and higher, was confidential and clearly stated as that.

I don’t know how the governmetn found out that Ali Zuwaidi had posted it online, because apparently he didn’t post it on his forum. However he confessed to it when he was questioned.

I assume that the leaking of confidential government documents is a much bigger offense than Omantel case. However for some reason people have labled this the OMantel trial. And for some reason Ali Al Zuwaidi, who is not a journalist, although he has been writing opinion columsn and essays for 20 years, has been referred to in the foreign press as a journalist. The case itsel is being lebeled as a freedom of expressionc as well. Freedom of expression doesn’t include libel.

The only thing that these cases are clearly bringing to the light is that the law here has been written in very vague terms.

By the way, Oman really does have the worst press in the region. Even KSA has more freedom of press than Oman.

13 04 2009
The Fark Knight

Hmm.. I concur. The 2nd distinct case is not being dealt as such because of the apparently low profile it is being given, even in the courts. Who wants to bring a member of the Ministerial Council coming and explaining why they don’t want a live phone-session, why can’t they allow public discussion, why they want to limit it to Q&A only.
I personally think we’re going to get a public verdict for the Omantel case with the memo case going in either the background or its penalties being merged with the former, just like the cases.
Hope it helps the law being clearer, although don’t depend on it.

P.S. about the journalist part, if you blog, run a forum & are in the news for a media-related offense, you’re a journalist!

-TFK

23 04 2009
Omani Blogger Trial - Verdict « The Fark Knight

[…] the verdict gave us mixed results. On the two counts that he was indicted on, Ali was found Not Guilty of defamation in the allowing-the-anonymous-post case. It might not be […]

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