CPJ urges full, independent investigation into killing of journalists in Yemen

New York, February 2, 2016 – Investigations into the killing in Yemen of journalists and other civilians in airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition should be thorough and impartial, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri, spokesman for the coalition, on Sunday announced the formation of “a high-level independent team in the field of weapons and humanitarian international law to evaluate the military targeting mechanisms and incidents taking place in civil[ian] locations,” the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

“Investigations into the deaths of journalists and other civilians in the conflict in Yemen must be truly independent if they are to be credible. They must assess how better to afford protection without whitewashing previous violations,” Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, said. “We expect all parties to the conflict in Yemen to uphold international law and preserve the lives of journalists and other civilians.”

The coalition’s announcement came a week after news outlets carried details of an unpublished report from a United Nations expert panel urging the Security Council to create an international commission to investigate violations of international humanitarian law in the conflict. Human rights groups have criticized the coalition for the high number of civilians killed in Yemen since airstrikes began in March 2015.

The announcement also comes two weeks after the most recent killing of a journalist who was reporting on the aftermath of Saudi-led airstrikes. On January 21, 17-year-old cameraman Hashim al-Hamran was seriously injured in a coalition airstrike in the town of Dahyan, in Saada province, while reporting for the Houthi-run al-Masirah TV, the station and the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate said. He died of his wounds the following day.

Al-Masirah published a graphic video claiming to show the last footage al-Hamran took before he died. The footage shows residents sorting through rubble from a previous airstrike when a second strike hits, knocking al-Hamran to the ground. Those strikes killed at least 20 people, according to news reports.

At least five other journalists have been killed in airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition since the military campaign against Ansar Allah, also known as the Houthis, began last year, according to CPJ research. A week before al-Hamran’s death, a coalition airstrike killed freelance Yemeni journalist Almigdad Mojalli as he reported for the U.S.-government-funded Voice of America.

CPJ emailed Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Washington on Tuesday to ask for further information about the planned investigations and whether the panel would specifically examine the killings of journalists. CPJ has yet to receive a reply to earlier inquiries about what measures the coalition is taking to prevent deaths of media workers.

In a January 31 statement on its website, the embassy said, “The coalition has and will continue to take all precautions to protect civilians, medical ‎staff, humanitarian organizations and journalists in Yemen.” But in March 2015, Asiri had said in a press conference that the coalition would target media outlets supporting the Houthi movement and its allies as part of a comprehensive campaign in Yemen.

The United States, which is providing logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi-led campaign, has said it expects investigations into civilian casualties to be independent. State Department spokesman John Kirby on Monday told reporters, “Our expectation is that [the investigation] will be exactly what the Saudis said it would be. It will be independent.”

Yemeni journalists have also faced intense pressure from Ansar Allah and its allies, who have detained scores of journalists, activists, and political rivals since taking control of the capital, Sanaa, in 2014. On January 30, Houthi forces detained Nabil al-Sharabi, a Yemeni journalist who works for multiple outlets including the news website Al-Rai Press, and released him a day later, according to news reports.

Separately, an Al-Jazeera crew abducted on January 18 by unknown gunmen in the central Yemeni city of Taiz was released after 10 days, the network reported. It said the identities of the kidnappers were not clear.