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Alan Johnston released

July 4, 2007

Good news from Gaza at last, just when things were looking really dark: BBC reporter Alan Johnston has been freed after 16 weeks as a hostage.

Johnston said:

“The last 16 weeks were by far the worst days of my life. It was like being buried alive, removed from the world. It was occasionally terrifying, with people who were both unpredictable and dangerous,” he said.

“I dreamt about being free and then woke up to find myself in the same room. It’s hard to believe even now that I will not wake up again in the same room.”

He also said that intense pressure from the Palestinian people was a major factor in his release. Palestinians had been demonstrating for his release, and journalists around the world have been holding vigils for him.

Mr Johnston was held by the Army of Islam, which appears to be little more than a criminal gang linked to the Dogmush family. Hamas had vowed to clean up the Gaza strip and restore order, and Johnston’s release is certainly a propaganda coup for them: it will be difficult for the hostile Western media to create negative spin around this.

I feel a tremendous sense of relief: the world needs people like Johnston, reporting hard truths from dangerous places. When it becomes too dangerous for reporters to operate, the thugs and killers can operate with impunity, because they know there are no witnesses to tell the world, and ordinary people are isolated.

I am very glad to be able to take the “Free Alan” banner off my blog now. Welcome home to sunny Scotland, Alan, though I’m sure the weather’s a bit of a shock after Gaza.

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