Johnston fails to make contact

Concern was yesterday expressed for the safety of Alan Johnston, the BBC’s Gaza correspondent, who has not been heard from since he was kidnapped seven weeks ago.

Neither the BBC, nor his family, have had any contact with the British reporter after he was seized and abducted by unknown gunmen in March.

Appeals for his immediate release have been sounded by the BBC, journalists from around the world and press freedom groups like Reporters Without Borders.

They were ratcheted up yesterday – World Press Freedom Day – but so far without result.

However disclosures obtained by The Times claim Ismail Haniya, the Palestinian Prime Minister, reported progress in efforts to free Mr Johnson.

The news comes after unconfirmed reports claimed the 44-year-old journalist had been killed by an unnamed Palestinian militant group.

At the time, the BBC said it was “highly concerned”, but stressed it was unable to independently verify the accuracy of the claim.

Subsequent reports suggested the news may have been deliberately issued by the kidnappers as a way to get their demands met, which have included the release of a suicide bomber linked to al-Qaeda.

Yesterday, Mr Haniya reportedly said that the kidnappers had issued seven demands.

“During debate, those demands were reduced to three,” he added, without specifying what the remaining demands were.

Speaking yesterday, Mark Thompson, the BBC’s director-general, said: “Alan Johnston is a remarkable, courageous journalist who stayed in Gaza because he believes the story of Gaza needs to be told.

"He has done so with humanity, but also objectivity - one of an extraordinary group of people who remain in the world's trouble spots when everyone else is getting out, and who sadly face increasing danger right across the world.

"Seven weeks after he was abducted, we want Alan home, safe and well."

A rally calling for Mr Johnston’s immediate release took place yesterday at the United Nations, adding to a long list of similar demonstrations that have taken place in London, Gaza and Beirut.

Meanwhile, an online petition calling for the journalist’s release has been signed by over 65,000 people.

Alan Johnston's family reflected on the past seven weeks: "This is a desperately worrying time for us.

“We make a heartfelt appeal to anybody who may have knowledge of Alan's situation and wellbeing to contact the authorities in Gaza.

“Our son has lived and worked amongst the people of Gaza for the last three years to bring their story to the outside world – and we ask every one of them to help end this ordeal.”


4th May 2007

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