Freelance journalist killed by Saudi coalition airstrike in Yemen

New York, January 19, 2016–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the killing of Almigdad Mojalli. The Yemeni freelance journalist was killed by a Saudi-led coalition airstrike outside the capital of Sanaa on Sunday morning while on assignment for Voice of America, the outlet reported this weekend.

Mojalli reported for Voice of America, the international humanitarian news network IRIN, The Telegraph, and others on the devastating humanitarian toll that the conflict in Yemen has taken upon ordinary civilians. Mojalli, 34, also frequently assisted international journalists in covering the conflict as a fixer and source of information. According to IRIN, Mojalli considered fleeing Yemen multiple times but decided to stay to continue his work documenting the conflict. More than 5,800 people have died in the fighting since March, according to the Associated Press.

“Almigdad Mojalli’s terrible death highlights the extreme risks reporters face as they cover the fighting in Yemen,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Washington, D.C. “All parties to this conflict must take every possible step to protect journalists trying to do their jobs.”

Bahir al-Sharabi, a Yemeni journalist working for the Yemen Digital Media production company, told CPJ he traveled with Mojalli Sunday morning along with a driver and a local resident to cover the effects of recent Saudi-led airstrikes in the Hamam Jarif area, about 25 miles south of the capital, Sanaa. According to The New York Times, at least 15 civilians had been killed in airstrikes there the previous week.

Al-Sharabi told CPJ that they arrived to the scene around 9 a.m. After about 15 or 20 minutes, they were unexpectedly caught in a Saudi-led coalition airstrike. An explosion knocked Al-Sharabi unconscious. When he came to his senses, Al-Sharabi said, he found Mojalli seriously injured nearby. Al-Sharabi and others, many of them injured themselves, loaded their colleague into the car and tried to find medical assistance, but Mojalli died before they could find help.

Al-Sharabi, who suffered light injuries, told CPJ he did not think he and Mojalli were directly targeted by the Saudi coalition airstrikes, and he was not sure if there were any military targets in the area when the airstrike hit. He said their car was not marked as a press vehicle, and nothing on their clothing identified them as press.

At least four other journalists have been killed in airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition since their military campaign against Ansar Allah, also known as the Houthis, and their allies began last year, according to CPJ research. CPJ called the Saudi Embassy in Washington to ask for comment today and was told to send emailed questions to their press office. CPJ has yet to receive any reply to earlier inquiries to the Saudi government regarding the deaths of Yemeni journalists killed by the coalition, and what measures they are taking to prevent future deaths of media workers.

Yemeni journalists have also faced unprecedented pressure from Ansar Allah and its allies, who have detained scores of journalists, activists, and political rivals since taking control of the capital in 2014. Last year, Mojalli told CPJ he was facing increased harassment from Ansar Allah and that he feared the group would detain him in retaliation for his reporting.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The text has been modified to clarify that Ansar Allah took control of Sanaa in 2014.