CPJ welcomes release of abducted AFP reporter

New York, January 8, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release in Gaza Sunday night of Agence France-Presse photographer Jaime Razuri, who had been held by kidnappers since January 1. Razuri, 50, was dropped off at Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ compound in Gaza City by Palestinian security forces, according to AFP. Razuri was unharmed and said he was well treated by his abductors, AFP reported.

Palestinian officials said Abbas’ Fatah party and the Popular Resistance Committees, a small militant group in Gaza, secured the journalist’s release, according to news reports.

“We welcome the safe release of our colleague Jaime Razuri after a week in captivity,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “The use of foreigners, including journalists, as bargaining chips to settle internal Palestinian disputes is unacceptable and has a chilling effect that harms the Palestinian people. We call on the Palestinian government to arrest and bring to justice those behind the abduction.”

Palestinian security officials suspected that the Dughmush family, a large armed clan in Gaza City, was behind the abduction, according to news reports and CPJ sources. The Dughmush clan had been pressuring the ruling Islamic Resistance Movement to turn over 18 people suspected of killing two of its members, according to Deutsche Presse-Agentur and CPJ sources. But an Abbas aide said the family helped in releasing the journalist and was not directly linked to the abduction, CPJ sources reported.

Razuri, a veteran international journalist, was seized by a group of armed men as he was entering the news agency’s bureau in Gaza City, AFP reported. He was returning from an assignment with an interpreter and driver when he was seized. The captors made no public demands or statements.

Razuri’s abduction was condemned in the occupied Palestinian territories. The Hamas-led government of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya denounced the kidnapping, as did all major Palestinian political groups. Razuri’s colleagues issued appeals on local Palestinian radio stations, and Palestinian journalists staged a protest in Gaza City to demand the release, according to press reports.

Razuri, a Peruvian national, was the 14th journalist abducted by gunmen in the Gaza Strip since 2004, according to CPJ research. All of those previously abducted in Gaza were eventually released unharmed, often after several hours in captivity.

Once rare, kidnappings have been on the rise in Gaza since 2004. Past abductions appear to be the work of private individuals or groups seeking to exploit foreign hostages for political purposes or use them as bargaining chips to secure the release of imprisoned colleagues or win government jobs. To CPJ’s knowledge, none of those responsible for abducting members of the media have been apprehended or brought to justice for their actions.