The Archbishop of York is to hold a prayer vigil today (Tuesday 17 April 2007) for missing BBC journalist Alan Johnston.
The initiative comes as the BBC said it had received no independent verification over claims by a Palestinian Islamist group that Mr Johnston, the corporation's journalist seized by gunmen in Gaza City, had been killed.
The previously unknown Tawhid and Jihad brigades said on Sunday that Mr Johnston had been "executed" in response to the plight of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.
More than 1,000 of Mr Johnston's friends and colleagues gathered at vigils for the missing journalist outside BBC buildings across the UK yesterday.
Both Muslims and Christians in the region have also been taking to the streets to call for his freedom. Yesterdsay there was a rally in Gaza seeking the release of Israeli detainees. There are regular vigils for the hundreds of captives and hostages in Iraq, whose number grows daily.
Announcing the vigil which will take place at 3pm today in the chapel of Bishopthorpe Palace in York, Dr John Sentamu said: “The purpose of this vigil is twofold.
“First it is an appeal to those who have kidnapped Alan to let him free. As someone who has lived amongst the Palestinian people and given them a much needed voice, he has now come to represent all those who put their lives at risk in an attempt to inform the wider world of the daily dangers faced by those in places such as Palestine.
“In addition to praying for Alan’s safe release, my prayer will also be for those who think violence is the answer to the problems of the Middle East. Violence, kidnapping and fanaticism will lead to retribution not to peace. Peace will only flower where love and justice pervade the environment.”
The vigil follows Dr Sentamu’s call for Alan Johnston to be released in his Easter day sermon.
Speaking at York Minster on April 8th 2007 the Archbishop made a plea to those who have kidnapped the journalist: “In God’s name please release Alan Johnston. He is not your enemy. He is a symbol of ensuring that freedom of the press is not violated – an issue Palestinian journalists are too familiar with after facing routing attacks, harassment and arrests. Let the Man Free !”
In August of last year the Archbishop mounted a seven day vigil and fast for peace in the Middle East during the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, where thousands of people joined Dr Sentamu in his prayers for an end to the conflict.