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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 April 2007, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
Radio 4 story delayed for BBC man
Hanif Kureishi
Author Hanif Kureishi is nominated for the National Short Story Prize
The BBC has postponed the broadcast of a story about western hostages being executed in Iraq as concern grows for missing BBC journalist Alan Johnston.

Weddings and Beheadings was due to be broadcast on Radio 4 this Thursday.

But it was pulled from schedules after Palestinian militants claimed to have killed Mr Johnston, who was abducted at gunpoint in Gaza City on 12 March.

The author, Hanif Kureishi, criticised the decision as censorship, saying: "It all seems rather arbitrary".

The story describes a man who is forced to film executions of western hostages against his will.

It has been shortlisted for the National Short Story Prize, and was due to be read as part of Radio 4's coverage of the competition.

Censorship claims

However, the BBC said it did not "feel it would be right to broadcast at the moment".

"It is our normal practise to review the schedule in the light of sensitive news stories," said a spokeswoman for Radio 4.

"We must stress that we would have taken precisely the same decision if the still unconfirmed claim about Alan Johnston's fate had been made about anyone else."

Alan Johnston
Alan Johnston has been missing for five weeks
But Kureishi said he felt Mr Johnston would not have wanted the broadcast to be scrapped.

"It seems to me that as a journalist, he would be against censorship," he told the Guardian newspaper.

"There are journalists and newspapers in peril all the time around the world. We support them by supporting freedom of speech rather than by censoring ourselves."

Mr Johnston joined the BBC World Service in 1991 and has spent eight of the last 16 years as a correspondent, including periods in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

He has lived and worked in Gaza for three years and was the only Western reporter permanently based in the often violent and lawless territory.

On Sunday, the previously unheard of Tawhid and Jihad brigades claimed it had executed Mr Johnston.

In a statement, the BBC described the claims as a rumour without verification.

A spokesman for UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said the government was investigating the reports.

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