Jailed journo after smugglers

Glen Johnson has been locked up in Yemen after a boat ride from Africa. Photo / Supplied
Glen Johnson has been locked up in Yemen after a boat ride from Africa. Photo / Supplied

A Kiwi journalist languishing in a Middle Eastern jail was investigating a people smuggling ring at the time of his arrest.

Glen Johnson, 28, is in jail in the Lahj province of Yemen, where President Ali Abdullah Saleh is fighting an uprising that has left hundreds of people dead and thousands homeless.

But Johnson, who trained at Canterbury University before heading to the Middle East to start a freelance career 2 years ago, was not in the country reporting on the riots.

His King Country-based parents, Mike and Lin, yesterday confirmed Glen had been in Djibouti, which borders Ethiopia and is less than 100km from Yemen across the Strait of Aden, a week ago.

They understood a UK magazine had commissioned him to write about a people-smuggling ring, believed to have been taking those who could pay their way from Africa to the Middle East for a better life.

It is understood Johnson was arrested for being in Yemen illegally and his parents believe he was probably caught after sailing in from Djibouti, either with the smugglers, or following their trail.

They were not sure, however, if he was arrested on land or at sea.

"I can't see him getting off the boat and landing illegally," Lin Johnson said from Piopio.

"I can see him taking a boat trip across with them, but not following it to its conclusion."

Glen Johnson had been in Yemen before, reporting on sex abuse issues, and had been asked to leave the country.

Johnson, who has written sporadically for the Herald on Sunday, had contacted the paper's editor, Bryce Johns, about 10 days ago and said he was in Africa and considering following the smugglers.

Johns said Johnson was not on assignment for the Herald on Sunday, but that the paper had supported him by running some of the articles he wrote for UK publications.

"He's a lot braver than me, going into some of the world's hotspots. But he was usually sensible with it - we managed to dissuade him from going to Iraq and Afghanistan as his safety could not be guaranteed. And when he was in Egypt reporting on the riots this year, he stayed inside when things were at their worst."

Lin Johnson said her son was "pretty passionate about Middle Eastern politics".

Canterbury journalism course leader Professor Jim Tully said as a student it had been clear Johnson wanted to follow a different path to most.

"He was always his own man. At the end of the year he was most determined to be in the Middle East," Tully said.

"He's been remarkably dogged. I have huge admiration for the way he's followed that particular dream."

Tully said he had had semi-regular emails from Johnson and had urged him to look after his safety first and foremost.

"He's been arrested two to three times in various places. He's been on the bones of his arse a number of times."

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman said their consular staff in Saudi Arabia were working to free Johnson, but they had had no updates yesterday.

- Herald on Sunday

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