Worldwide rallies seek release of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston

New York, May 3, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists joined with colleagues at a rally at U.N. headquarters today to call for the release of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston, abducted in Gaza more than seven weeks ago. Journalists in London, China, and Indonesia also rallied today, World Press Freedom Day, in support of Johnston’s release.

“No purpose is served by keeping Alan Johnston. Please release him now, and return him safely to his family,” CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said at the New York rally, which was carried live by BBC television. “Alan Johnston is a journalist. He does not represent any country; he does not represent any government.”

BBC News World Editor Jon Williams and ABC Nightline co-anchor Martin Bashir also spoke at the rally. Williams said Johnston, who has been based in Gaza since April 2004, “stayed so long—and after so many colleagues had left—because he wanted to tell the story of Gaza to the world.”

Johnston’s abduction is having a debilitating effect on the foreign media and their ability to cover the Palestinian story from Gaza. “That story is now effectively not being told. Palestinian journalists themselves realize this. That is why they have taken to the streets to call for Alan’s release,” CPJ’s Mahoney said.

On Wednesday, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya said the government knows where the journalist is being held, but it has refrained from using force to secure his release at the British government’s request. The British government has not commented. The Associated Press quoted Haniya as saying the abductors were motivated by a blend of “politics, ideology and religious law … that moved them to think that this [kidnapping] is allowed.”

Haniya and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have both said Johnston is alive and well. Johnston, 44, was seized by four armed men in a white Subaru as he drove 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.

Johnston was the 15th journalist abducted in the Gaza Strip since 2004. All have been released unharmed. He has been held captive longer than any other journalist previously abducted in Gaza, according to CPJ research. None of those responsible for abducting journalists have been brought to justice.