Johnston kidnapping represents a 'striking departure' warns IFJ

As BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston’s disappearance entered its fourth week, the International Federation of Journalists has admitted that the situation is now in uncharted waters.

IFJ human rights and information officer Rachael Cohen said: ‘Considering the length of time that Alan has been kidnapped, the situation is really worrying.

‘The other journalists who have been kidnapped in Gaza have been released fairly quickly.

‘This is different. It is three weeks without any official demands being made by any groups – which obviously increases the concern every day.’Cohen said Johnston’s case was ‘a striking departure’from previous situations because of the lack of information about his captors or his safety.

Her concerns were echoed by Reporters Without Borders, whose UK representative Jean-Baptiste Damestoy told Press Gazette that officials were worried the spate of kidnappings in Gaza were turning into political gestures rather than highlighting local disputes, as has previously been the case.

Johnston was one of only a few Western journalists working in Gaza at the time of his disappearance.

The IFJ said that its policy remained that any journalists should be able to work independently and safely in any part of the world, and that it would resist telling its members not to go to certain areas, but would advise against ‘unnecessary travel”.

The IFJ is also campaigning for the release of an interpreter, Adjimal Nashkbandi, kidnapped with Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo in Afghanistan in March.

Though Mastrogiacomo has since been released, his Afghan driver was beheaded and the whereabouts of the interpreter is unknown.

In the UK, 300 journalists called for Johnston’s release in a full-page advert in Monday’s Guardian.

Almost all national newspaper editors, including the Daily Mail’s Paul Dacre, The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger and Robert Thomson of The Times have pledged their support.

The advert is also backed by news bosses across the broadcasting spectrum, including ITN News editor-in-chief David Mannion, the director of BBC news, Helen Boaden; the BBC director of radio, Jenny Abramsky, Channel 4 controller of news and current affairs Dorothy Byrne and head of Sky News, John Ryley.

The advert calls for Johnston to be released immediately and unharmed.

He was last seen on the afternoon of 12 March – making his disappearance the longest a journalist has been held in Gaza since the recent spate of kidnappings in the region. The two Fox News journalists kidnapped last August were released after 13 days.

The BBC has set up a website for members of the public to add their names to the petition at: bbc.co.uk/haveyoursay.

Palestinian and foreign journalists held a rally in the West Bank city of Ramallah in solidarity with the reporter on Monday.

On Sunday, Palestinian journalists announced a three-day strike to protest about what they called their government’s inadequate response to Johnston’s abduction.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and the Islamist movement Hamas, the majority party in the new unity government, have both condemned the abduction and pledged to work for Johnston’s release.

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