15 May 2007

BBC Correspondent in Gaza Alan Johnston has been detained for over two months. Recently, a group using a Palestinian banner claimed to be holding him in return for release of some prisoners in the United Kingdom.

On 3 May, the International Day for Free Press, a number of officials, reporters and civic society leaders joined in demanding immediate freedom for our kidnapped colleague. The Deputy U.N. Secretary General, U.K. Ambassador and many reporters surrounded BBC's Laura Trevelyan as she introduced the event. It was not a mere occasional ceremony. It was a declaration of support for unintimidated reporting.

Journalists are not government officials. They cover events professionally to the best of their ability. All of us are human and when it comes to news reporting, someone is bound to be upset. But that is not why some thugs picked up Alan Johnston. If their concern was really the Palestinian cause their action misfired. The BBC correspondent was one of the very few credible media links for Gaza with the outside world. Holding him did not only deprive the Palestinian people of better international understanding but it solicited adverse reaction by millions who felt that Johnston was the wrong target.

The more time passes, the more the risk of a miscalculation, the more danger to the detained life. It is therefore crucial to keep the pressure on and insist on the immediate release of Alan Johnston; not only for his own life, his family, the BBC and free press. But also for the cause of the Palestinian people.