CJFE Overjoyed at News of Release of Alan Johnston

Thursday, July 5, 2007
CJFE is greatly relieved by the news that BBC correspondent Alan Johnston was released by kidnappers in Gaza on July 4. "It's been 114 days of a living nightmare," said Johnston of his captivity, at a press conference. For the past three months, he was locked up in a shuttered room, unable to see the sun. He has said that while his captors were rarely violent, they frequently threatened his life. At one point, his arms and legs were chained together for 24 hours and his kidnappers beat him in the half hour before they released him. Johnston was abducted on March 12, 2007, on the way home from his office. He was the only Western journalist still permanently based in Gaza. His kidnappers, members of a group called the Army of Islam, had demanded the release of Muslim prisoners from British custody in exchange for Johnston's freedom. It appears that he was released after successful negotiations between the kidnappers and Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement currently in control of Gaza. CJFE is concerned that those responsible for the abduction of Johnston may go unpunished as Hamas has announced that they will not crack down on the Army of Islam. If Hamas allows this kidnapping to go unpunished, it sends an unfortunate message that journalists are fair targets, and those who attack them can do so with impunity. "It was inspiring to see so many free expression organisations working alongside the media, and friends and family of Alan to advocate for his release," said CJFE Executive Director Anne Game. In Canada, journalist Daniel Lak, a friend and colleague of Alan Johnston, worked with CJFE and the Canadian Media Guild to hold a rally on May 10, which marked the 60th day of Alan's captivity. Johnston has said that he was allowed to listen to a radio during his captivity, and hearing news of global demonstrations of support for him was a "huge psychological boost." While CJFE is thrilled by Johnston's release, we must also pay attention to other journalists around the world who remain captive, often with little notice from the Western world. Three alerts released in the past few days on the International Freedom of Expression eXchange website (www.ifex.org) have mentioned other journalists who have been kidnapped, including two Baghdad TV journalists who were kidnapped last month and were recently found murdered. Reports on IFEX state that more than 100 journalists have been killed already this year and it looks as though last year's record death toll may be surpassed. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) is an association of more than 300 journalists, editors, publishers, producers, students and others who work to promote and defend free expression and press freedom in Canada and around the world.

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