BBC reporter seized by gunmen

For the second time this week the BBC has said it is clueless as to the whereabouts of Alan Johnston, its Gaza correspondent, who was kidnapped on Sunday by unidentified gunmen.

Mr Johnston, described by the BBC as a “highly experienced reporter”, managed to drop his business card moments before he was snatched near the Egyptian embassy in Gaza City.

Other reports claim his business card was left in the rented car he was using, yet both accounts agree the motive was the same - to let Palestinian officials know his identity.

An international effort was last night in full swing to secure Mr Johnston’s release, as media groups called for assistance from the nation’s Prime Minister and President, Mahmud Abbas.

The National Union of Journalists said it would be calling on its sister union, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, to provide any information that could hasten the release of the reporter.

According to Palestinian security officials, Mr Johnston, was seized by four gunmen as he returned from the Erez Crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel.

The abduction follows the recent kidnapping of a photographer for Agence France-Presse, who was held for a week, and two Fox news journalists, who were held for two weeks.

In total, 14 foreign journalists have been seized in the Gaza Strip since 2005, mostly by groups who want jobs or other benefits from the Palestinian Authority.

Positively for Mr Johnston’s family, whom the BBC said are being kept “fully informed” of any developments, the majority of kidnapped reporters in the region have been freed unharmed. Krootez

However lawlessness in the region remains rife, according to press freedom group Reporters Without Borders.

“The grim series of abductions of foreign journalists continues in the Gaza Strip without the authorities so far finding a way to bring it to an end.

“None of the people responsible for kidnapping journalists since 2005 has been arrested or tried,” the Paris-based group said.

Yesterday the BBC said it is chasing up reports concerning the whereabouts of Mr Johnston. A statement added: “We are currently unable to contact him and are concerned for his safety.”

Media freedom groups warned that the failure of authorities to catch kidnappers of journalists, and aid workers, “encourages potential hostage-takers to act.”

Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the NUJ, reflected: “It is absolutely unacceptable for a journalist attempting to do his job to be snatched on the street and taken away.”



14th March 2007

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