Free Alan Johnston [Archives:2007/1057/Viewpoint]

June 7 2007

This week marks the eighth anniversary of the death of my father and Yemen Times founder, Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf, in a June 2, 1999 car accident. I have strong reason to believe his death was a premeditated murder due to his daring opinions as an advocate for freedoms and human rights.

Like him, there are many free men and women who sacrifice their lives for the sake of human rights and freedoms. I spent last week at Beirut's An-Nahar newspaper, where photos of journalists Gibran Tueni and Samir Qasir were all over the place to remind us of those who gave their lives for the sake of press freedom.

The common understanding is that journalists are killed or harassed by oppressive regimes or influential parties that have something to hide. However, now there's a new trend whereby journalists are abducted and used as pawns in political struggle.

This is what's happening in Gaza with BBC correspondent Alan Johnston, who was kidnapped March 12 in Gaza City by Palestinian gunmen calling themselves the “Army of Islam.” They are demanding the release of radical Muslims being held in British jails. If these gunmen claim to be the good guys, then they have no business abducting journalists.

Johnston was the only Western journalist still permanently based in Gaza City, but because of this, no other journalists will be encouraged to report about the happenings in that troubled part of the world.

As for radical Muslims in British jails, if Muslims decide to live in Britain, utilize its resources and enjoy its sovereignty, then they must respect its laws and maintain the country's stability.

Many Muslims who have migrated to the West have opted to do so in order to escape the oppression they faced in their own countries. Truly, they have found an environment that encourages freedoms, as long as they respect the laws of their host country. Many Muslims have been there generation after generation and, to a large extent, have integrated with the Western community.

With a few exceptions of instances where security authorities went too far and incriminated innocent people in the raging “War against Terrorism,” most of those detained actually caused their own detention in one way or another. In both cases, there is the law, an international justice system, and numerous organizations that may be called upon in case of any human rights violation by authorities or the security system.

Too many people have died and too many journalists have met their fate while doing their duty. The Army of Islam must release Johnston before more people are killed. What will it take for these vicious crimes to stop? Was Bob Dylan right when he answered this question many years ago: the answer is “blowin' in the wind?”