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Cairo Rally Calls for Release of BBC Reporter in Gaza


Journalists rallied in downtown Cairo to call for the immediate release of British Broadcasting Corporation Correspondent Alan Johnston, who was kidnapped in the Gaza Strip seven weeks ago. VOA's Challiss McDonough was at the demonstration and has this report.

The mood was solemn as about 40 journalists from Egyptian and international news organizations stood on the steps of the local Press Syndicate holding posters with Alan Johnston's picture and calling for his freedom.

The BBC's Gaza correspondent was abducted seven weeks ago. The BBC says there have been rumors and speculation about his whereabouts, but almost no hard information.

BBC Cairo bureau chief Ian Pannell read a statement on behalf of the BBC appealing directly to Johnston's kidnappers to release him.

"Alan Johnston's only offense was to expose himself to personal danger because of a strong desire to bring the story of Gaza to the outside world," said Ian Pannell. "He has paid a heavy and undeserved price for his commitment. He has suffered enough. Let him go."

On April 15, a previously unknown militant group in Gaza claimed to have killed him, but the Palestinian Authority says its intelligence service has determined that the missing correspondent is still alive.

The kidnapping of Alan Johnston has been condemned by every political group in the Palestinian territories. He was the only Western reporter permanently based in the Gaza Strip, which had been his home for three years.

The Cairo vigil was one of a series held around the world in the seven weeks since Johnston was kidnapped. BBC Cairo Correspondent Heba Saleh said his colleagues and friends want to keep up the pressure until he is free.

"We are trying to keep Alan's plight in the public eye," said Heba Saleh. "We are trying to prevent him from being forgotten. We are sending a message to the people who are holding him that they should release him. He was a journalist doing his job. He spent three years in Gaza. He was giving the outside world a picture of what it is like for the Palestinians in Gaza. He lived in difficult conditions and this should not happen to him."

The rally for Alan Johnston was attended by both local and international journalists based in Cairo. Many expressed their concern for his safety, and also their anger at the deliberate targeting of journalists anywhere.

The secretary general of the Egyptian Press Syndicate, Yehia Qallash, called the reporter's abduction shameful and urged his immediate release.

He said, "We need to show solidarity, and we call on the Palestinian authority to do its job, which is protecting the safety of everyone, especially reporters and other civilians."

The Committee to Protect Journalists says Johnston was the 14th journalist to be abducted in Gaza since 2004, and has been held longer than any of the others. The group says all the other journalists were released unharmed.

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