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JOHNSTON FREED IN GAZA; BUT CAMERAMAN SHOT AND WHISTLEBLOWER SENTENCED

Press freedom organisations celebrated the release of BBC journalist Alan Johnston last week after he spent 114 days held hostage by a criminal gang in Gaza. Also last week, however, Israeli troops in the Palestinian territory shot a cameraman for a Hamas-run television station, resulting in amputation to both legs. And an Israeli court sentenced nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, who completed an 18-year sentence in 2004, to another six months in jail for speaking with foreign journalists.

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) hailed a large international campaign for Johnston' release. Rallies worldwide had called for his freedom, and some 200,000 people signed an online petition, the BBC noted. Johnston was freed in the early hours of 4 July after senior Muslim clerics intervened and negotiations began between Hamas and his kidnappers.

Palestinian media organisations and civil society had campaigned relentlessly for Johnston, ARTICLE 19 said. Palestinian journalists pressured the Palestinian Authority, picketing the Legislative Council with their mouths gagged and holding up banners. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said an "unprecedented" campaign by journalist unions around the world symbolised the fight to free all journalists kidnapped and held hostage.

The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (Mada) thanked all those who contributed to the release, and said the kidnappers of Johnston and other foreign journalists must be brought to justice. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) termed the kidnapping "a serious smear on the image of the Palestinian people."

One day after Johnston's release, Israeli forces in Gaza shot a Palestinian cameraman, resulting in amputation of both his legs. Imad Ghanem, of the Hamas-affiliated satellite channel Al-Aqsa, was filming paramedics aiding wounded people in a central Gaza refugee camp when Israeli tanks began firing, according to Sameer al-Bouji of the Pal-Media news agency, who filmed the incident.

Ghanem, 21, was shot in the leg and fell to the ground, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Footage broadcast on Al-Jazeera shows the cameraman being shot twice more in the legs as he lay injured, his camera beside him.

Al-Bouji told CPJ that Israeli soldiers fired on him, an AFP photographer, and a Turkish Ihlas News Agency cameraman when they attempted to move Ghanem to safety. Reuters reported that Israeli forces also fired at its camera crew and other journalists covering clashes from a rooftop in central Gaza, but no one was injured.

An Israeli military source quoted by international news sources, including Reuters, said Israel does not recognise cameramen of the Hamas-affiliated channel as journalists. The Israeli army denies deliberately targeting journalists.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemned Israeli Defence Force representatives who justified the attack by claiming Ghanem was not a card-carrying reporter, and that his footage would probably be used for Hamas propaganda, not news. "This is a vicious and brutal example of deliberate targeting of a journalist," said IFJ general secretary Aidan White, "This man was carrying a camera, not a gun."

In other news, on 2 July, Amnesty International and the IFJ condemned an Israeli court's decision to jail nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu for refusing to abide by restrictions on his expression and movement. Released in 2004 after serving a full 18-year term in prison for confirming the existence of Israel's nuclear arsenal to the "Sunday Times" of Britain, Vanunu was prohibited from leaving Israel or speaking to foreign nationals on the grounds that he might still have nuclear secrets.

Vanunu has repeatedly stated that he has no classified information beyond what he was sentenced for revealing, and that the information he had is now more than 20 years old and has long been in the public domain. Vanunu, who in 1986 was abducted in Italy by secret service (Mossad) agents, is out on bail pending appeal against the conviction and six-month sentence.

Visit these links:
- BBC on Johnston: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6267928.stm
- Article 19: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/press/alan-johnston.pdf
- Palestinian Centre for Human Rights: http://www.pchrgaza.ps/
- IFJ on killing: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?Index=5106&Language=EN
- Associated Press (on MSNBC): http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19642603/
- Amnesty International on Vanunu: http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGMDE150442007
- Vanunu's site: http://www.serve.com/vanunu/
- Letter about Vanunu signed by IFJ president: http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/comment/0,,2118857,00.html
(Photo: Alan Johnston after his release. Photo courtesy of AFP/BBC News)

(10 July 2007)

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RT @IFJGlobal: #Afghanistan 🇦🇫: a #photojournalist was one of the 22 victims killed in a bomb attack on 13 October.… https://t.co/Swv9B4tga4

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