(Beirut) – Yemen’s Defense Ministry should cooperate in bringing the killer of a journalist and his friend to justice, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the defense minister, Maj. Gen. Mohammed Nasser Ahmed, requesting information about possible military involvement in the case.

The journalist, Wagdy al-Shabi, and a friend, Wadoud Ali Saleh al-Somati, were killed on February 22, 2013, in al-Shabi’s home in Aden. The Defense Ministry initially claimed responsibility for these killings on its semi-official website, saying that security personnel had killed the men during an attack on a checkpoint. Later it changed the statement about the men’s death, stating only that they were killed at home, without providing any details.

“The Yemeni Defense Ministry’s initial claim that the security forces had killed the journalist Wagdy al-Shabi and his friend and then its retraction sets off alarm bells,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Defense Ministry needs to explain why this occurred and to cooperate with the authorities investigating the two killings to bring those responsible to justice.”

Al-Shabi’s wife, Najla al-Mansoob, told Human Rights Watch that at about 12:30 a.m. on February 22, two men wearing military vests shot and killed al-Shabi, 28, and  al-Somati in the al-Shabis’ home.  Hours after the incident, news of the killings appeared on “September 26,” a semi-official website, quoting a source in the Defense Ministery, who said thatmilitary forces killed al-Shabi, whom they alleged was an al Qaeda media officer, during an attack on a military checkpoint.

The ministry’s spokesman told Human Rights Watch that the website editors removed the article several hours later at the ministry’s request, but said he could neither confirm nor deny the ministry’s role in their death. He said then that the Interior Ministry was investigating the incident, but no further information has been provided by the government about the killings.