In Gaza, BBC correspondent still missing after a week

New York, March 19, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists today renewed its call for the release of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston who was abducted in the Gaza Strip one week ago.

“We’re deeply concerned that Alan Johnston has been missing for a week now, and we appeal to those holding our colleague to release him at once,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, and the Palestinian Authority must do everything in their power to see to it that Alan Johnston is returned to safety.”

Journalists in Gaza plan a 24-hour strike starting Tuesday morning to show solidarity with Johnston and to pressure the Palestinian Authority to do more to locate him, local journalists told CPJ. During that time, journalists said, they will not cover any official government news. Palestinian journalists have staged several protests calling for Johnston’s immediate release.

Johnston, 44, was seized by four armed men in a white Subaru as he was driving near the BBC’s Gaza City office on Al-Wihdah Street around 2 p.m. on March 12, according to CPJ sources in Gaza. Johnston was quickly identified because he threw his business card on the street, according to news reports. No claim of responsibility was made and the motive for the kidnapping remained unknown, local journalists told CPJ. Last week, Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad said the abduction was “on its way to being solved” and that authorities had “definite information regarding the parties behind this kidnapping.”

Johnston joined the BBC in 1991 and has been based full-time in Gaza since April 2004. He was due to return to London at the end of next month.

Johnston was the the 15th journalist abducted in the Gaza Strip since 2004, according to CPJ research. CPJ research shows that all of the previously abducted journalists were released unharmed.

Past kidnappings appeared to be the work of private individuals or groups seeking to exploit foreign hostages for political purposes or to use them as bargaining chips to secure the release of jailed relatives or to win government jobs. To CPJ’s knowledge, none of those responsible for abducting members of the media has ever been apprehended or brought to justice.