Freedom of the Press

Oman

Oman

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

70

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

26

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

22

Although Oman's basic charter provides for freedom of the press, government laws and actions tightly restrict this freedom in practice. Article 61 of the Press Law prohibits criticism of longtime ruler Sultan Qaboos and provides for criminal punishment for abuses of this law. The Ministry of Information may censor any material regarded as politically, culturally, or sexually offensive in both domestic and foreign media. As a result, journalists frequently practice self-censorship, and most editorials were in line with government opinion. The authorities tolerated some degree of criticism, however, particularly on the internet. The internet chat room Al-sablah, for example, occasionally contained messages critical of the government.

In 2005, former parliamentarian and journalist Taybah Am-Ma'wali was charged with violating the Press Law after she sent mobile phone messages criticizing the government. She was sentenced to six months in prison in July after refusing to sign an acknowledgement of wrongdoing. Also in July, the government detained columnist and poet Abd-Allah Ryami, who had criticized an official crackdown (begun in December 2004) against members of the Ibadi sect and had also protested the government's prosecution of Am-Ma'wali. Ryami spent a week in jail, during which time he was denied access to legal representation and was not permitted to contact his family. He was later released without charge. Ryami and fellow writer Mohamed Harthi had already been banned from writing columns in 2004, after they criticized the slow pace of the democratic reform process and Oman's press law.

In October, the Ministry of Information licensed one private television station and three private radio stations, raising hopes that Oman's broadcast media might soon air more diverse views. But at year's end, the government still owned and controlled all broadcast media with the largest viewership in Oman, despite the growing reach of satellite television. Private print publications are permissible under the law, but many currently accept government subsidies. Omanis can access the internet through the national telecommunications company, but the company blocked sites considered politically sensitive or pornographic and placed warnings of probable censorship and police questioning on others. There were 245,000 internet users in Oman as of September 2005.