BBC journalist Alan Johnston became one of the country’s most respected reporters while covering the armed conflict in the Gaza Strip. He then became the focus of world wide media attention when he was kidnapped in the territory.
Born in Tanzania in 1962, to Scottish parents, Alan was educated at the independent school, Dollar Academy, in Scotland, and continued his studies at the University of Dundee, where he graduated with an MA in English and politics. He then completed a post graduate diploma in Journalism Studies at the University of Wales.
After beginning his career on British regional newspapers, Alan joined the BBC World Service in 1991. Following a period in the organisation’s London headquarters, he was appointed as Central Asia Correspondent in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
During his time there, Alan covered the intensifying repression in countries like Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, as well as the civil war in Tajikistan and the battle for Grozny in the Chechen war in 1995. He then spent a year in Afghanistan as the BBC’s Kabul correspondent. During that period he reported on the start of the rule of the Taliban movement in the city, and its efforts to capture the rest of the country.
Later, in 2004, Alan began his prolonged posting to Gaza, becoming the only foreign correspondent living in the territory. He covered historic events there, such as the death of Yasser Arafat, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, and the rise of the Hamas movement.
During the final weeks of his posting in 2007, Alan was ambushed and kidnapped by a Jihadi organisation, the Army of Islam. In an effort to try to secure his release, the BBC launched a major international campaign which won an extraordinary amount of support around the world - and not least from many Palestinians.
Alan was released unharmed after being held captive for nearly four months, and on the same day he was awarded a prize by Amnesty International for his radio reports on the human rights situation in Gaza. The citation praised him for his ‘commitment to telling ordinary people’s stories.
Alan said: “There were times when I was afraid that I might die in captivity, and always I was scared that I might be held for years. I was in the worst trouble of my life. But after my guards gave me a radio in my cell I heard that friends and colleagues and many, many strangers all around the world were joining a campaign to press for my release. It was a huge psychological boost and one of the most moving things that I have ever known.”
Working as a BBC Journalist in the BBC’s London base, Alan focuses largely on events in South Asia, and presented the From Our Own Correspondent radio programme from 2008-2011. He has won several awards, and published a book of his collected journalism.