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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 May 2007, 21:44 GMT 22:44 UK
Archbishop plea for BBC reporter
Bishop Sentamu
The archbishop has made several appeals for Mr Johnston

The Archbishop of York has called for the release of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston in an interview broadcast on al-Jazeera television.

Dr John Sentamu stressed Mr Johnston's role in giving a voice to the Palestinian people in the broadcast - aired on Saturday evening.

He said the people were suffering as a result of Mr Johnston's abduction in Gaza on 12 March.

A tape allegedly made by Mr Johnston's kidnappers was released this week.

Issued by a group calling itself the Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam), the tape contained no new pictures of Mr Johnston, 44, but showed his BBC ID card and demanded the release of Muslim prisoners in British jails.

'Vital role'

Dr Sentamu said: "He's lived in Gaza for three years and got to understand the local people and, really, in a very dangerous position, has always reported the news as it is on the ground.

"And without him being there at the moment the rest of the world really, to be realistic, without a journalist of his quality, some of the news isn't getting out."

Alan Johnston
Alan Johnston was abducted at gunpoint

He said it was "vital" that a quality news journalist worked in Gaza to ensure people got to know what was happening on the ground.

He added: "That's why in fact, within the Gaza Strip, journalists and local people have been saying, Free Free Alan.

"In Uganda we had a very difficult man called Idi Amin so the first thing he did was really to silence journalists and the rest of the world doesn't know actually what was going on the ground."

In a speech at the London Press Club Awards earlier this week, Dr Sentamu urged Mr Johnston's release "in the belief that the journalistic enterprise is a noble and worthy one".

The archbishop described how he had been "kicked around like a football and beaten terribly" in a Ugandan jail.

Mr Johnston was named broadcast journalist of the year at the awards.

'Grave concern'

The International Press Institute (IPI) has renewed a call for Mr Johnston's immediate release at its world congress in Istanbul, Turkey.

The press freedom organisation adopted a resolution which said: "The IPI condemns all those who kidnap journalists and calls on them to respect the media's independence and to release their captives immediately.

"In particular, at this time, the IPI voices its grave concern for Alan Johnston, the BBC journalist kidnapped in Gaza on 12 March, and appeals for him to be released now - safe and unharmed. The IPI calls on the Palestinian Authority to work to that end."

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