Yemeni journalist killed in Taiz

New York, February 17, 2016–Armed men in the central Yemeni city of Taiz fatally shot Ahmed al-Shaibani on Tuesday, according to his colleagues and employers.

Al-Shaibani, a Yemeni journalist working for the independent Yaman News website and state-run Yemen TV, was shot to death while reporting on fighting in Taiz by gunmen belonging to the Houthi rebel alliance, both his employers reported.

A graphic video published by the Yemen Shabab television channel Tuesday shows al-Shaibani and three other individuals in civilian clothes running across a street in a neighborhood badly damaged by fighting when Al-Shaibani falls to the ground with a gunshot wound to the head. Later, two men in military clothing attempt to pull al-Shaibani off the street, but they also come under fire.

Residents of Taiz have endured a months-long siege as a patchwork of pro-government and Islamist groups resist attempts to take the city by fighters belonging to Ansar Allah, also known as the Houthis, and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Last month, a crew working for Al-Jazeera was abducted for several days in the city by unknown gunmen before being released.

“The direct targeting of journalists and other civilians has sadly become the norm in many conflict zones, but rarely is it so clearly documented as in the killing of Ahmed al-Shaibani,” said Jason Stern, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa senior research associate. “All sides of the conflict in Yemen must uphold their responsibility not to target journalists or any other noncombatants.”

Ahmed al-Basha, a Yemeni photographer who contributes to Agence France-Presse, told CPJ that he, al-Shaibani and a group of other journalists had gone to Al-Hasab neighborhood of western Taiz to report on a fire in a plastics factory that had been hit by a shell from pro-Houthi fighters. Al-Basha stayed behind with some of the journalists, as others, including al-Shaibani, left the factory site. As al-Basha returned from the factory, he photographed a puddle of blood in the street shown in the Yemen Shabab video, only to find out later what had happened.

Al-Basha told CPJ that what he believed to be pro-Houthi gunmen purposefully targeted the journalists, saying that he too had come under fire crossing that street as he returned from the factory. In a report filed two days before the killing, Sky News Arabic correspondent Mohammed al-Qadhi said that Houthi forces had deployed snipers on the street.

Al-Basha told CPJ that all the journalists who went to the factory had to cross the same street, including another Yemen TV journalist, Ahmed al-Bokari. Al-Bokari wrote on his Facebook page that he first crossed the street and was waiting on the other side as al-Shaibani attempted to cross. After al-Shaibani was hit, two anti-Houthi fighters were able to retrieve him under fire and transport him to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Al-Shaibani’s most recent reports for the website Yaman News were about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Taiz and attempts to distribute humanitarian assistance.

The administrator of the general email account for Yemen TV, who did not identify himself by name, wrote to CPJ that al-Shaibani was on his first assignment for the station the day he was killed. After Houthi forces took control of the capital of Sanaa in September 2014, they commandeered government institutions including state media like Yemen TV. Yemen’s internationally recognized government in exile in 2015 set up a rival station, also named Yemen TV, for which al-Shaibani worked, according to news reports. Regional satellite broadcasters controlled by Arab governments, Nilesat and Arabsat, removed the Houthi-controlled stations from their transmissions in favor of the government station.

Two staff members for the Houthi-controlled Yemen TV were also killed this month. According to the outlet, an airstrike from the Saudi-led coalition hit the house of director Muneer Alhakami and his wife Suaad Hujaira, who also worked for the station in an unspecified role. The airstrike killed their entire family including three children, the outlet said. The New York Times cited local residents who said the house was in a residential area far from obvious military targets.