Muslim scholars want reporter held in Philippines freed

Thu Feb 28, 2013 12:32pm EST

* Rare plea by Islamic scholars for journalist release

* Imam says hostage-taking contrary to Islamic beliefs

DUBAI Feb 28 (Reuters) - Senior Muslim scholars have appealed to Islamist rebels holding an Arab journalist hostage in the Philippines since June to free him immediately, statements issued this week said.

Baker Atyani, a Jordanian journalist of Palestinian origin working for the Dubai-based al-Arabiyah television, has been held on Jolo island by a leader in the Islamist Abu Sayyaf group, the interior secretary, Jesse Robredo, was quoted last year as saying.

Al-Arabiyah had said Atyani, a correspondent based in Islamabad, was seized along with two Filipino crew members after he arrived in the Philippines for what an al-Arabiyah spokesman had said was a reporting assignment on local customs that had been scheduled to air during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Egypt's al-Azhar mosque and university, the 1,000-year-old seat of religious learning, made a rare appeal for the release of Atyani, saying hostage-taking was contrary to Islamic beliefs.

"His eminence appealed to the kidnappers to quickly free the Palestinian hostage and ensure his safe return home, in concern for the life that God almighty gives and which is protected by countries that grant entry permits to its territory," the statement, emailed to Reuters in Dubai On Wednesday, said.

"The Grand imam asserts that this shameful act of kidnapping, terrorising and gambling with the lives of people in exchange for a frivolous sum of money contradicts the teachings of Islam as well as international covenants and norms."

In a separate statement issued on Thursday, the Association of Palestinian Scholars Abroad also demanded Atyani's release, saying holding harms his family and the interests of Muslims.

The kidnappers's demands were not immediately clear, but Robredo had said there was no mention of ransom, though one of the Filipino captives had called his wife and asked the latter to contact his company.

The two Filipinos, Rolando Letrero and Ramelito Vela, work for a Manila-based media production house and had been hired by Atyani.

The two Filipinos were freed earlier this month, Philippine authorities have said, but Atyani has remained in captivity.

The Philippines initially denied Atyani was a hostage, even though the Jordanian foreign ministry issued a statement last week saying he was a captive there.

Atyani arrived on June 11 at the island stronghold of Abu Sayyaf, notorious for kidnappings-for-ransom and for beheading captives. The next day, Atyani and his crew were seen boarding a mini-bus to the island's interior. (Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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