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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Story of Indian journalist Exploited and Tortured in Oman



Hundreds of Indians workers are being denied their legal rights in business firms and other institutions across GCC nations. Workers ranging from labourers, domestic helps to professionals like engineers, journalists and even doctors are no exception.

English newspapers published from Muscat are among those who  violate rights of journalists with impunity and many Indian journalists have been subjected to abuse and arbitrary sacking.

However rarely one protests or files a complaint in courts there. Being in an alien land where official language is Arabic and foreign citizen and even locals have limited rights prevents them from approaching courts. Many also fear of their own safety and safety of family to fight a case. While a section of Arab Businessmen are to blame for exploitation of expatriates, a section of Indians act as abettors. Indian political leaders have financial relation with many Arab firms and they have benami investments there. So these people don’t interfere for Indian workers.

Though what I wrote is the norm, One Indian Journalist at Oman Tribune fought against abuse and illegal retrenchments. His open letter to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin  Said says it all.

(This is not against Sultan who is a benevolent administer who treats his subjects well and allows different religions to exist. This is also not against Omanis who consider Indians as friends and who have relations with India for hundreds of years. Let me clarify that Arabs and Indians are friends but crooks should not be allowed to subvert justice, whether they are Arabs or Indians)

To

HONORABLE HIS MAJESTY SULTAN QABOOS BIN SAID

THE SULTAN, SULTANATE OF OMAN


THROUGH: Citizens of Oman; expatriates and others


Your Majesty

I’m Hari Narayanan, journalist, fighting a legal case against Al Watan/Oman Tribune Media Group for more than two years against breach of contract (I joined Oman Tribune English daily on 17th Nov 2008 as Deputy Chief Sub-editor, copies attached, but my official designation on Resident Card was linguist); illegal termination (my contract was abruptly terminated on March 30, 2011, no reason was cited, copy attached; cheating and Human Rights Violations (three complaints were filed against Indian journalist Ajith Das (my complaint no. 311/2011) in August 2011 with Oman NHRC.

Our experience (with my wife and two small kids) since my termination on March 30, 2011 and till our troubled exit from Oman and back to India on May 6, 2013 (25 months) had been very horrifying, threatening, tiring and to say the least inhuman on the part of my employers.


To start with, The Manpower (labour dept) kept a blind eye when I moved complaint against the illegal and unjust termination on April 13, 2011; Manpower forwarded the complaint as case to the Primary Court in Muscat (case no. 467/2011).The Honorable Judge Emad Abdul Munim Ibrahim delivered the verdict in favour of Al Watan/Oman Tribune Media Group on May 29, 2012.


An appeal has been made to the Supreme Court (Case no. 118/2013) on March 23, 2013 against the Appeal Court’s judgment. Here, I would appeal to Your Majesty that my case at the Oman’s highest court be heard only by the honorable Omani judges.

Having struggled in Oman for last 25 long months without job in an effort to seek fair justice; we were literally drained out physically, mentally and financially. (I salute to all those Omanis and expatriates who stood with us in tiring times and also to those who wanted to share with our pain and agony, but, unwillingly opted out due to the threat posed by Al Watan/Oman Tribune Media Group.

Coming straight to the core issue; my contract was terminated on March 30, 2011, no reason was cited. When I asked the Al Watan/Oman Tribune management, they shot back, “how dare you ask the reason.”

In the case of Human Rights complaints against Ajith Das, Oman NHRC member and investigating officer of our complaints, Jehan Al Lamki, tried her best to seek an appointment with Mohammed Suleiman Al Taie a number of times to take up the issues against Ajith Das, but on all occasions Mohammed Suleiman Al Taie let her down. With no option left, Jehan submitted her report to Oman NHRC in Feb, 2012, stating that Mohammed Suleiman Al Taie had refused to cooperate with the Oman NHRC.

We were told that the only option left was that these files would be sent to “His Majesty” for final disposal! What happened thereafter only God knows? Every time we approached Oman NHRC, we got stereotyped answer that something would be done.

Why I was terminated? I joined Oman Tribune as Deputy Chief Sub-editor, thinking that the Oldest Media house would be transparent in their recruitment process, but soon my conscience proved wrong. After 10 months of my joining, I came to know that my designation mentioned in Arabic (violating the government norms and contradicting their own contract letter) was not that of a journalist, but linguist, stated on my official Resident Card, issued by the Government of Oman.

I asked Ajith Das why this faux pas! He told me that it might be due to some mistake and would be rectified in my next renewal i.e. November 2010. Shockingly, I got the same “linguist” designation on renewal of my Resident Card and soon I was after Ajith for cheating me, which finally led to my termination.

During that period I came to know that some 99 per cent expatriate journalists working with Oman Tribune had been cheated. Most of their designations are linguist, mentioned on their resident cards; some are page makers and designers.

Ajith Das, had been instrumental in the exit of more that 70 journalists since the launch of Oman Tribune English daily in September 2004. On an average one journalist was either sacked every month; forced to leave or made to sign his/her resignations, with the Al Watan/Oman Tribune Media Group knowing fully well the atrocities journalists’ suffered at the hands of Ajith Das.

It is worth mentioning that not a single Oman Tribune journalist was shown the door (in last 25 months) since I took up the case with Al Watan/Oman Tribune Media Group and till my exit from Oman on May 6, 2013, though, Ajith Das had recommended to sack many and even advised not to renew their contracts.


Legal Case! Al Watan/Oman Tribune Media Group had tried to justify my termination in court, stating that my post was Omanised and given to a young Omani girl Laila as part of Omanisation Policy.

The suspicion arose when Al Watan/Oman Tribune Media Group submitted documents in Manpower’s Labour Dept that Laila had replaced me (hari) on March 1, 2011 in Oman Tribune. My contract was terminated on March 30, 2011, that means going by what  Al Watan/Oman Tribune Media Group had claimed, Laila should have worked with me for 30 days (from March 1 to March 30, 2011.

In each and every documents submitted by Al Watan/Oman Tribune Media Group in Primary and Appeal courts, the management strongly claimed that Laila had replaced me (Hari) in Oman Tribune English daily newspaper.

Months passed by and no one knew in Oman Tribune who this Laila was? We pressed our claim legally and strongly in Primary Court that Al Watan/Oman Tribune Media Group had cheated the court, but the verdict went against me. 

I moved Appeal Court (case no. 372/2012) against the Primary Court judgment in June 2012. For six months, I and my lawyer went all out in search of Laila. Soon, by the grace of Almighty and with the support of some trusted Omani friends, we were able to track this young, truthful and dynamic Oman girl.

Laila was shocked to know that her name and documents were used against me in the name of Omanisation. For a few seconds, she was speechless. She said “I never worked with Oman Tribune newspaper.” “I started as a trainee journalist in Futoon (Arabic weekly magazine, part of Al Watan newspaper) in June 2010 and was confirmed employee on March 1, 2011. I resigned from Futoon on 17th September 2011,” she clarified.

When we were very sure that Al Watan/Oman Tribune Media Group had cheated the courts by producing Laila’s documents against me without her consent or knowledge, we pleaded the Honorable judges to summon Laila in court and unearth the truth.

Thankfully, despite strong protests by Al Watan/Oman Tribune Media Group lawyers in court, our plea was accepted by the honorable Chief judge Mohammed Attiah and summon was sent to Laila to appear in court on Jan 29, 2013. My lawyer took a daring stand and told the honorable judges that if Laila says that she had worked in Hari’s place in Oman Tribune daily newspaper, we would accept defeat and won’t pursue the case further. My lawyer even told the honorable judges that he had spoken to Laila on this matter.

On Jan 29, 2013, Al Watan/Oman Tribune Media Group claim was fully exposed when Laila told the honorable judges that she had worked in Futoon (Arabic statement copy attached). The court went in pin drop silence as Laila began her testimony, spilling the beans against the Al Watan/Oman Tribune Media Group.

Al Watan/Oman Tribune Media Group lawyer tried to defend an indefensible, but in vain. Chief judge Mohammed Attiah told Al Watan/Oman Tribune lawyer Hussain that whatever he has say, he should give in writing in 10 days time. (by feb 8, 2013).

We were told to give our reply based on Laila’s testimony within five days (by feb 3, 2013). The Chief judge Mohammed Attiah fixed Feb 26, 2013 for judgment.

In the meantime, we submitted our reply within the time frame but Al Watan/Oman Tribune Media Group failed to do so.

On the date of judgment, Feb 26, 2013, some 20 cases were listed for judgment and mine was 15th in the list. As soon as the names were called in my case, Chief judge Mohammed Attiah asked the court official Majid for the file. The judgment was postponed exactly for a week i.e March 5, 2013.

I asked my lawyer why this has happened to us only because five other judgments were announced after our hearing. He said: “the judges might need some more time to study the case.”

On March 5, 2013, despite the strong cool air conditioners in court, my full body began to sweat when the honorable judges passed through the corridors towards the court room. I tried to close my eyes and open again and again, thus, trying to prove myself wrong, what I had just seen.

The full bench was changed and the court had three new honorable judges to deliver the judgment.

Judgment announced. My lawyer sat on his chair in utter dismay. His face turned pale and that was enough for me to understand what was said in Arabic. “Case dismissed; claim rejected….”

Few days later when we went to read the full judgment in court office, the judgment said it all ???.


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