BBC Reporter Alan Johnston is released in Gaza

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Alan Johnston poster
Image: Redvers Kyle.
A short time ago, we received the news we've waited 114 days for – that Alan is free and is safe – and we are overjoyed.
The last 114 days have been a dreadful time for us – but particularly for Alan. Through it all, we never lost hope. Alan had always told us of the friends he'd made in Gaza. We knew, in the end, they would be there for him.
We've always known Alan was special.
But the last 14 weeks have shown us how special he is to others – to his friends in Gaza, to his colleagues at the BBC, and to the listeners and viewers who've written in their thousands. Their support has buoyed us up through the darkest days. We've drawn our strength from them.

—Graham, Margaret and Katriona Johnston (his father, mother and sister).

The BBC's correspondent Alan Johnston based in Gaza has been freed after almost four months in captivity. The BBC broadcast images of Alan Johnston leaving a building in Gaza and entering a white car.

Hamas police surrounded a building where it was believed Johnston was being held. Earlier, Hamas had captured several members of the Army of Islam and continued to put pressure, by threat of force, on the captors. An intervention by another militant group, the Popular Resistance Committees, led to a breakthrough in negotiations between Hamas and the Army of Islam.

Rallies were held worldwide and an online petition calling for Johnston's release was signed by over 200,000 people. On Johnston's appearance after his release a witness said that he appeared healthy, but had lost weight.

"We have been able to close this chapter which has harmed the image of our people greatly," said Khaled Meshaal, leader of Hamas. "The efforts by Hamas have produced the freedom of Alan Johnston."

On the subject of Fatah, Meshaal told Reuters, "It showed the difference between the era in which a group used to encourage and commit security anarchy and chaos and the current situation in which Hamas is seeking to stabilise security." Hamas had stated that they were anxious to have Johnston freed to highlight differences in their ability to provide security in Gaza as compared to Fatah.

Alan Johnston was the only western correspondent working full-time in Gaza. He went missing on March 12th 2007. Concern for his safety grew last month as a video released by the Army of Islam showed Johnston wearing a vest packed with explosives.

In a press conference with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, Alan Johnston said he felt 'buried alive and detached from the world' and that he gained hope through listening to the radio and the support that he has received from around the world. He also thanked the Hamas leader and security services.

His parents held a press conference just after 7 a.m. (BST) on the 4th of July. The parents said that they never gave up hope over the 114 days. They received a phone call late last night where he told them briefly that he was okay. The parents ended wanting to thank people for helping them get through this difficult time and for keeping their spirits up.

Gordon Brown Prime Minister of Britain issued a statement on the release of Alan Johnston at his first Prime Minister's Questions. "I welcome the good news of Alan Johnston's release. This will come as a great relief to his family and friends, and all those who have worked to see him freed."

At 2:15 p.m. (BST) a rally was held at BBC Television Centre which over one hundred BBC staff attended. At the same time the 'Free Alan Johnston' poster which was attached to the side of the Television Centre was taken down. Alan Johnston also thanked the people at the rally and was amazed at the support he has been given.


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