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Alan Johnston freed!

July 6, 2007

BBC correspondent Alan Johnston has been released after 114 days in captivity in the Gaza Strip.

Les mer om Alan Johnston på norsk i Dagsavisen!

These days, both the Middle East and the western world are wondering and worrying about what Hamas are going to do with their newly won power in the Gaza Strip. In Jerusalem, Alan Johnston is already celebrating one of Hamas’ first successes after they seized power in something between a coup d’etat and a six day civil war: his own freedom.

Negotiations and raw power

British journalist Alan Johnston was kidnapped 114 days ago by the infamous Dagmush clan, a family with links to both organized crime and the so-called Army of Islam. The Fatah-Hamas government seemed either unwilling or unable to secure his release, either through negotiations or through more violent means. That is, until Hamas threw Fatah out of the Gaza strip after a week of particularly ugly and relentless civil war, hellbent on ruling the area all by themselves. One of the first things Hamas leader Ismail Haniya did after seizing power, was to state that Hamas would bring law and order back to Gaza, and that Johnston should be freed immediately. Whether Hamas can really bring law and order, not to mention lasting peace, to this troubled region, is yet to be seen. However, Haniya has kept the second part of his promise: According to the BBC, Hamas played a crucial role in securing Johnstons release. After effectively sealing of the area controlled by the Dagmush with hundreds of tough, determined fighters, Hamas managed to negotiate Johnston’s release.

Johnston and his family were not the only ones happy with the outcome of the negotiations. According to Palestinian BBC reporter Abu Shamala, the whole Gaza strip feels different after Johnston’s release:

– Now, you could feel the relief of all the Palestinians. It’s as if we’re at a crossroads – 99.9% of Palestinians felt shame about what happened to Alan, so today we’re happy.

International pressure

No doubt, Hamas leaders are also celebrating, having sent the message that they, and they alone rule Gaza, and that they intend to do so in a strict, orderly, law-abiding fashion.

However, while Johnston’s release would not have happened without the threat from hundreds of Hamas gunmen and a leadership determined to show the world just how serious they are about law and order, Hamas are not the only ones to be thanked. Whitout massive international pressure from everyone from Amnesty International and Reporters Without borders to the Palestinian journalist’s syndicate, Hamas would not have made Johnston’s well-being their top priority. Johnston himself pointed to the more than 200 000 signatures on an online petition for his freedom started by his BBC co-workers.

Power to the people

Johnston’s kidnapping and release makes an interesting case study for all bloggers and Internet activists. First of all, it shows us just how dangerous work journalism has become, at least to the few brave reporters who, like Alan Johnston, risk everything to tell the truth about what is happening at the frontlines of the world.

Second, the Johnston case shows clearly that Internet activism and media pressure can really make a difference for those who are kidnapped, abducted, unlawfully imprisoned or just disappeared because they are doing their jobs all to well. Every single surfer who signed the petition for Johnston’s release, every single blogger who told his story has reason to celebrate a little.

Third, the Johnston case should serve as a rallying cry. Johnston was released, but there are many journalists and writers suffering at this very instant. Do something about it!

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