Iran denounces Alan Johnston kidnap as Sentamu makes appeal

By staff writers
May 13, 2007

An Iranian government spokesperson, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, has condemned the kidnapping of BBC journalist Alan Johnston in Gaza on 12 March 2007, saying such actions were to be rejected as a matter of principle.

A militant group recently claimed responsibility for the abduction, saying it wants Isalmist prisoners released in exchange for Mr Johnston. Muslims and Palestinian activists have joined protests for the reporter's freedom from across the world.

On Saturday 12 May 2007, the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, broadcast an interview on the Al-Jazeera news network appealing directly to the captors of Alan Johnston, seeking his release.

The worldwide concern about this individual case is heightened by the desire to maintain a free and enquiring media to cover events in the Middle East and elsewhere

The archbishop's interview follows reports earlier this week that a group calling itself Jaish al-Islam - The Army of Islam - sent a video purporting to show a picture of Mr Johnston’s press card to the Al-Jazeera bureau in Gaza.

In the interview Dr Sentamu, underlining that part of Islamic theology relating to the merciful nature of Allah, appeals directly to the kidnappers to release their hostage immediately and unharmed.

The Archbishop also stressed Alan Johnston’s role in giving a voice to the Palestinian people as the only journalist to have remained in Gaza.

In a speech at the London Press Club awards on 10 May, the second most senior cleric in the Church of England, a former judge in Uganda, spoke of the kidnapping in relation to his own past experiences under the cruel dictatorship of Idi Amin.

He declared: "Last week marked the fiftieth day of captivity for Alan Johnston, and on that day I was able to pray together with the clergy from the Diocese of York at our conference for Alan’s safe return and release. Fifty days is a long time to be away from those you love. Speaking from personal experience, though from a totally different environment and context, the temptation to give up hope of release is always present, but the prayers and concerns of others are instrumental in being able to survive each day in captivity."

Dr Sentamu added: "[J]ournalism at its best is always undertaken in service of the reader, listener or viewer and in the common cause of human rights and personal liberty, and therein lies the moral responsibility of the media."

He concluded: "Journalists, whether imprisoned or not, deserve the supportive prayers of the faith communities and the critical solidarity of all lovers of freedom. It is also true to say that those people persecuted for their religious faith or laudable opinion deserve the attention of journalists."

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