Abducted journalists freed in Gaza

New York, August 27, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release in Gaza today of Fox News correspondent Steve Centanni and cameraman Olaf Wiig, who had been held by kidnappers since August 14.

Centanni and Wiig were dropped off at Gaza City’s Beach Hotel by Palestinian security officials, according to news reports. The pair, who were reported in good health, later met with Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

The release of the two journalists came a day after Palestinian officials said they expected to have “good news.” Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Abu Hilal said then that authorities were exerting efforts to release the journalists, though he would not call them negotiations. Wiig’s wife, Anita McNaught, today thanked Palestinian officials and Fox News for their efforts in getting the men released.

The two were seized in the center of Gaza City by a previously unknown group called the Holy Jihad Brigades. The group released video of the two journalists and demanded the release of Muslim prisoners held by the United States.

At a news conference following their release today, both men said they hoped the kidnapping would not deter journalists from continuing to report in Gaza. “My biggest concern really is that, as a result of what happened to us, foreign journalists will be discouraged from coming to tell the story and that would be a great tragedy for the people of Palestine,” Wiig told reporters. “You guys need us on the streets, and you need people to be aware of the story.”

Once rare, journalist abductions in the Gaza Strip have increased over the last two years. At least seven other journalists have been kidnapped during that time. All have been released unharmed and usually after several hours. The journalist held the longest was French national Mohammad Ouathi, a soundman for France 3 television. He was held for eight days last year before being released unharmed.

The Fox News kidnappings were widely condemned by Palestinian officials and journalists. Hamas, the Islamic group that leads the Palestinian government, issued a statement calling the abductions morally reprehensible. The two main journalists’ associations in Gaza have also launched appeals. The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, a union controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and the Palestinian Journalists’ Block, a committee run by Palestinian journalists, both issued statements calling for the release of the Fox News team.