Alan Johnston release ‘a glimmer of hope’

The UK government has added its joy to the news of BBC journalist Alan Johnston’s release.

The 45-year-old broadcaster was released in the early hours of Wednesday morning after 114 days in captivity and handed over to Hamas officials.

In a press conference after his release, Mr Johnston said the past 16 weeks had been the “very worst of his life” and described captivity as an “appalling experience” and like being “buried alive”.

Mr Johnston revealed he had been aware of the huge international efforts to free him, including the online BBC petition signed by 200,000 people and vigils by journalists across the world.

The journalist thanked everyone who had worked for his release and apologised to his parents for putting them through the four-month ordeal.

Foreign secretary David Miliband said Mr Johnston’s release was the product of very close work between the government, the BBC and leadership in the region, and recognised the role of Hamas in securing the journalist’s release.

Mr Miliband said: “I’d like to recognise the priority that has been given to this issue by President Abbas and also by the leadership of Hamas, including Ismail Haniya.”

Mr Johnston also spoke of the role of the Palestinian group Hamas in his release.

In mid-June, Hamas, which won a majority in the Palestinian elections 18 month ago, seized control of the Gaza strip from rival Palestinian group Fatah.

He said Hamas’ armed seizure of Gaza and pledge to improve security had led to a marked change in his captors and helped facilitate his release.

“I know the Hamas leadership put a huge amount of pressure on the kidnappers. If it had not been for that pressure then I might have been left in that room for a lot longer,” Mr Johnston said.

The journalist claimed he had not been hurt by his captors, although later admitted they had hit him “a bit”.

At one point he had been kept in chains for 24 hours and did not see the sun for much of his captivity.

He fell ill after eating the spicy food provided and had to beg for plain meals. “I felt they would be perfectly capable of watching television while I died.”

The journalist said the experience was “occasionally quite terrifying” and it became “quite hard to imaging normal life again.”

He told reporters: “I dreamt about being free and then woke up to find myself in the same room. It’s hard to believe even now that I will not wake up again in the same room.”

Mr Miliband told the BBC this morning: “I am absolutely delighted by the news of the release of Alan Johnston. Amid the death and gloom that is often reported from the Middle East, this is a glimmer of hope that I think is very significant.

“I hope that the message goes out loud and clear that hostage taking is an absolutely abhorrent crime that has no place in a civilised world and Alan’s release sends a very clear message that hostage taking will not pay.”

The prime minister Gordon Brown said he welcomed the “very good news” and said the journalist’s release was a “great relief”.

Mr Johnston’s parents said they were “overjoyed” at their son’s release.

The BBC welcomed his release and said they were “delighted and extremely relived”.

In a statement the corporation said: “We thank all of those who worked tirelessly – here and in the wider Middle East – to secure his freedom.”

Mr Johnston was abducted from Gaza City on March 12 by the Army of Islam. During his captivity, the group released three videos, one showing the journalist wearing an explosives belt.