Mohamed Al-Absi, 35, died in a hospital on 20 December after dining with a close relative in the Yemeni capital Sanaa.
His burial was delayed at his family’s request to allow for an autopsy. The results of analyses carried out in Jordan were finally published on 5 February by a committee consisting of the family, the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate, and various research centres and NGOs. They show that he was killed by a toxic gas.
Some of the circumstances surrounding his death nonetheless remain unclear. According to local and regional media, Al-Absi had been investigating a sensitive story linked to oil companies owned by Houthi leaders shortly before his death.
“We deplore this journalist’s death in what appears to have been a horrible murder,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “We request an impartial and independent international investigation, one removed from local political pressure, to establish the exact circumstances of this death, so that his family can eventually obtain justice.”
Al-Absi was known for his investigative coverage of corruption, the black market and the war economy. He worked for the pro-government newspaper Al-Thawra until Houthi rebels seized the capital in September 2014. He also used to work for the newspapers Al-Sharea and Al-Oula until they were forced to close, in addition to maintaining a personal blog.
According to RSF’s sources, he knew he was in danger but, for personal reasons, refused to leave Yemen.
Ever since the start of the war in Yemen and the Saudi-led Arab coalition’s intervention in March 2015, journalists have been caught between the various parties to the conflict. They include the Arab coalition-backed supporters of President Hadi, Houthi rebels backed by former President Saleh’s forces, and armed groups in the south of the country such Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
Five journalists were killed in 2016 while around 17 journalists and media workers are currently held by the Houthis and Al-Qaeda. Yemen is ranked 170th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.