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Debates
Thursday, 26 April 2007 - Strasbourg OJ edition

Kidnapping in Gaza of the journalist Alan Johnston
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  Richard Howitt (PSE), author. Madam President, with your agreement I should like to begin by saying that last week over one thousand BBC staff, friends and colleagues of Alan Johnston gathered at vigils for him at BBC buildings across the world. I should like to welcome the BBC staff working here in Strasbourg who, in tribute to their missing colleague, are in the public gallery today to listen to our debate.

(Applause)

When a kidnapping takes place anywhere in the world, the victim’s friends and family always look to the media to keep the fate of their loved one in the eye of the public and of us as politicians. When the kidnapped person is himself a journalist, it is our responsibility to cherish their fate as they cherish others’.

Such is the case with BBC journalist Alan Johnston, abducted in Gaza 46 days ago. Alan’s career personally symbolises the outstanding reputation of the BBC for integrity and objectivity. Having previously worked in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, Alan is passionate about his reporting on the Palestinian people, with whom he has a close connection and for whom he has deep respect. This has resonated among his audience, 50 000 of whom have this week signed the online petition asking for his release.

Our first thoughts are, of course, with Graham and Margaret Johnston and with the other members of his family, to whom we send our sympathy and support.

I would like to pay tribute to the efforts of all the BBC management and staff and to journalists, trade unions in Britain and worldwide who have led the campaign for Alan’s release.

One of the colleagues here today told me that Alan is known quite simply as someone who brings stories to life. Today his life is our story. Alan Johnston’s courageous presence, as the only permanently-based Western journalist in Gaza, has precisely enabled him to report the suffering of the Palestinian people, and now he has become the ultimate case of a journalist caught up in his own story – a victim of the suffering itself.

We are told that Alan remains alive and secure, but not who is holding him. We can speculate whether his abduction was for reasons of politics, money or recognition, but we do not know which, if any. We can recognise that to prevent what has happened to Alan from happening to others requires a political understanding and solution.

However, today our response is not political – it is humanitarian, to say to whoever is listening: release Alan Johnston without harm and without hindrance. The European Parliament should welcome the assurances of help made by Europe’s Foreign Ministers this week and of ‘permanent contact’ promised by our own High Representative. We are sure you will act on these promises. I understand too that Commissioner Almunia, responding to today’s debate, will pledge that his colleague Mr Michel will this weekend press Alan Johnston’s case with President Abbas and representatives of the Palestinian Authority. We thank you.

The European Parliament acknowledges the support and cooperation of the Palestinian Authority and we are proud of Europe’s support to sustain your staff and the vital services they provide, but it is your intelligence services who have been able to make contact with those who have abducted Alan, and it is in you that we place our hopes for a breakthrough.

In radio circles, they say that the biggest crime is to say nothing into the microphone. Alan Johnston’s kidnapping is the radio silence that now must come to an end.

(Applause)

 
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