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04MUSCAT2187 2004-12-15 13:31:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Muscat
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					  UNCLAS MUSCAT 002187 



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. Summary: The Omani Internet chat room "Sablat al-Arab" -- or
simply "Al-Sablah" -- is the liveliest and most comprehensive
Arabic-language forum for political and social discourse in the
country, touching on issues and personalities rarely addressed in
the conventional media. While not totally free, nor wholly
reflective of Omani public opinion, Al-Sablah nevertheless offers
a worthwhile window into the hot topics and unvarnished views of
the day. This edition of Oman Online contains the following

--- The Ministry of Information and the Omani media
--- Human Rights Violations in Omani Prisons
--- Censorship and Omani Women's Magazines

End summary.


The Ministry Of Darkness


2. Al-Sablah members are discussing the Ministry of Information's
decision to ban some Omani journalists and how the decision is
impacting the Omani media environment. Some members argued, "The
ministry of information should be called the ministry of darkness
for the injustices it perpetrates against Omani journalists. The
most frightening thing is that each year the ministry seems more
determined to deny us the right to a free press." Another member
asked, "What gives the ministry of information the right to rule
over us and to control everything we see and hear." Several
participants offered examples of incidents that they believe
demonstrate the harmful effect that the ministry has on press
freedoms. One stated, "The ministry is behind the decision to
pull television shows. It regularly has television presenters
fired because their guest express opinions that are not favored
by the government. Another participant wrote, "There was a
famous TV talk show hosts who discussed social issues and
explored people's opinions about them. His show was taken off
the air until he `improved' its content." The discussion
concluded with the same participant adding, "The ministry ordered
the show's announcer banned for good when he returned for from a
`hiatus' and did a program on poverty in Oman."


Human Rights Violations In Omani Prisons


3. One Al-Sablah member began a discussion on the violation of
human rights in Omani prisons stating, "There are major
violations of human rights in Oman's prison's. I have heard of
numerous cases of police officers torturing innocent people into
confessing to crimes that they did not commit. Another member
asked, "Do international organizations check or monitor the
situation in Omani prisons?" One member share a personal
experience, "When I went to visit someone, thank God it was an
official visit, I saw a long line of women, children, and old
people waiting outside on one of the hottest days of the year
just to enter the visitor's line with no guarantee that they
would see their loved ones." Another member stated, "Omani
prisons are so bad that they cannot even meet the most basic
human rights criteria like the right to see an attorney or the
right to have access to family members. If our prisons cannot
even satisfy these requirements, we should not be surprised that
other more egregious violations occur."


Do Omani Women's Magazines Escape Censorship?


4. Al-Sablah also discussed whether women's magazines are
subjected to censorship. One member states, "It appears women's
magazines enjoy a free to provide their readers quality
information on any aspect of Omani life, but other publications
are denied this freedom." One participant responded, "Omani
women's magazines may seem to have more freedom but if you
compare them with other international or regional magazines you
can see the difference." Another member stated, "One of the most
widely read women's magazine in Oman has a foreign board of
directors, foreign editors, and a foreign marketing staff. This,
which may explain its willingness to explore substantive issues."
Several members speculated on the effect that censorship has in
determining the quality of a magazine stating, "It seems women's
magazines are successful because they largely manage to avoid the
heavy hand of censorship." Other participants responded by
stating, "Perhaps the censors are less stringent on women's
magazines because they lack understanding of the real issues
effecting Omani women's lives and are therefore less apt to
censor articles and information published in Omani women's