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Free the press – free the journalists!

May 29, 2007

The kidnapping of British Journalist Alan Johnston has been condemned by organizations like Reporters Without Borders and the Palestinian journalists’ syndicate, and both BBC colleagues, other journalists and a horde of bloggers have shown their support for Johnson. One of the latest, and possibly most important letters of supports comes from Guantanamo bay.

BBC reporter Alan Johnston was seized from his car by unknown kidnappers as he drove home from his office in Gaza City in early March. He has been held captive since then, and despite rumors that the Palestinian authorities know who is behind the abduction, they have not managed to negotiate his release.

From one prisoner to another

The support for Alan Johnston has been massive. Reporters Without Borders have urged the Arab League to claim his release, the Palestinian journalists’ syndicate in Gaza, has held several demonstrations in his support, and a petition for his release has been signed by over 100.000 people.

Yesterday, Reuters wrote about how one of the prisoners at the infamous Guantanamo bay prison base has issued a plea for Johnston’s release. Guantanamo detainee Sami al-Hajj of the al-Jazeera satellite TV network compared the kidnapping of Johnston with his own imprisonment at the hands of the United States.

– Please, then, as brothers in one faith, consider this gift that I request of you: That you release Alan Johnston as soon as possible, without conditions. While the United States has kidnapped me and held me for years on end, this is not a lesson that Muslims should copy, al-Hajj stated.

If anyone can speak with authority on the subject of illegal imprisonment, it is al-Hajj. While Johnston, who disappeared in March, has been held longer than any other foreign journalist kidnapped in Gaza, Al-Hajj, has been held at Guantanamo for nearly five years on suspicion of having links to Islamic militant groups.

Time for freedom

You don’t have to be a Muslim to agree with al-Hajj’s plea. Kidnapping and illegally detaining another person, denying him the right to trial or attorney as well as basic human rights, is just plain wrong. Kidnapping and illegally detaining journalists is not only wrong, but also very, very stupid. The so-called war on terror does not change this, neither for the US Military nor for Palestinian freedom fighters/terrorists.

Therefore, I wholeheartedly support al-Hajj’s plea for Johnston’s release. I would also like to go one step further, and hereby issue my very own plea to the US government: Either, release al-Hajj now, or give him and the other Guantanamo detainees fair and decent trials. At a civil court, with real press and real lawyers present. Anything short of this is just evil.



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