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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 May 2007, 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK
Archbishop praying for BBC's man
Alan Johnston
Alan Johnston was abducted at gunpoint on 12 March
The Archbishop of York has called for the release of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston, and told of his own imprisonment in Idi Amin's Uganda.

Dr John Sentamu said he was praying for Mr Johnston, who was abducted in Gaza on 12 March.

He said he urged Mr Johnston's release "in the belief that the journalistic enterprise is a noble and worthy one".

The Archbishop described how he himself was "kicked around like a football and beaten terribly" in a Ugandan jail.

His remarks came in a speech at the London Press Club Awards where Mr Johnston was named broadcast journalist of the year.

The award comes two days after a tape purportedly made by Mr Johnston's kidnappers was released.

'Safe return'

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

Bishop Sentamu
Fifty days is a long time to be away from those you love
Dr John Sentamu

Dr Sentamu told the awards that the knowledge that prayers were being said for him, as well as his faith in Christ, helped him survive his own period of captivity in Uganda.

He said: "Last week marked the fiftieth day of captivity for Alan Johnston, and on that day I was able to pray together with the clergy from the Diocese of York at our conference for Alan's safe return and release.

"Fifty days is a long time to be away from those you love.

"During my own 90-day captivity in Amin's cells in Uganda, just three weeks after my marriage, when I was kicked around like a football and beaten terribly, the temptation to give up hope of release was always present."

The Archbishop added that religious groups and journalists needed to protect each other's liberties, and that religious and press freedom were inextricably linked.

He said: "My continuing prayers for Alan Johnston's freedom are grounded in the belief that the journalistic enterprise is a noble and worthy one.

"Journalism at its best is always undertaken in service of the reader, listener or viewer and in the common cause of human rights and personal liberty.

"It is also true to say that those people persecuted for their religious faith deserve the attention of journalists."

Meanwhile, members of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and the Canadian Media Guild were due to hold a rally in support of Mr Johnston in Toronto.

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.

Earlier appeals for his freedom have come from Tony Blair and the United Nations Secretary, General Ban Ki-moon.


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