Murdered Politkovskaya, Captured Johnston at Heart of World Press Freedom Day in Europe

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The murder of Russia’s Anna Politkovskaya and the kidnapping of BBC journalist Alan Johnston took center stage during the ceremonies in Europe marking World Press Freedom Day on Thursday.

“More colleagues than ever are victims of ruthless hostage-taking and kidnapping,” said Aidan White, General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists.

White highlighted kidnappings around the globe to show how common abductions of media personnel have become in critical regions. Most were released but captors have killed journalists in Iraq, Afghanistan and Mexico.

“May 3rd is a day of celebration for free expression, but we have nothing to celebrate unless our colleagues are set free,” said White.

The Palestinian government said Thursday it knew where to find him but has held back on raiding the hideout at Britain’s request. It has said negotiators instead persuaded the captors, whom he indicated were Islamic extremists, to reduce their demands for his release.

Johnston was kidnapped March 12 in Gaza City, where there has been string of kidnappings of foreign journalists by Gaza militants over the past two years. No one has been charged or arrested in previous kidnappings.

“Alan’s abduction has come to symbolize the plight of all journalists who face threats daily,” said White.

European Union External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said “his captors are doing the Palestinian people no service by preventing him and others from doing their job – bringing the story of life in Gaza to the outside world.”

The Council of Europe, the continent’s premier human rights institution, centered on the murder of Politkovskaya. Her reports exposed rights abuses in the North Caucasus region and she was shot to death on Oct. 7. The murder sparked an international outcry and underscored the dangers in Russia for journalists who criticize the authorities or expose injustice.

“We still do not know who killed her and who ordered her killing,” said Terry Davis, secretary general of the Council of Europe. “Regrettably, it is not an isolated case of a Russian journalist being murdered in recent years, and the fact that, so far, very few investigations into these crimes have been brought to conclusion is a matter of growing concern,” he said.

The United Nations has celebrated the media’s right to free expression on May 3 since 1993.

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