Japan probing reports of Japanese journalist held hostage in Syria

TOKYO • The Japanese government is seeking information after reports of a Japanese freelance journalist being held hostage in Syria and threatened with execution, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said this week it had received information that an armed group holding journalist Jumpei Yasuda hostage had started a countdown for an unspecified ransom to be paid, and had threatened to execute or sell him to another group if its demands were not met.

RSF said in a statement on its website that Mr Yasuda was kidnapped in July by an armed group in an area controlled by the militant Al Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda's Syria wing, shortly after entering Syria earlier that month.

It urged the Japanese government to do what was needed to save Mr Yasuda.

Mr Suga said yesterday that the Japanese government knew of the case, but was not aware of any fresh developments.

"Given the nature of the matter, I would like to refrain from commenting on details," he told a news conference.

"The safety of our citizens is an important responsibility of the government, so we are making every effort and making full use of various information networks," Mr Suga said.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) beheaded two Japanese nationals - a self-styled security consultant and a veteran war reporter - early this year.

The gruesome executions captured the attention of Japan, but the government said at the time it would not negotiate with the militants for their release.

Ms Seiko Noda, a senior ruling party lawmaker, told Reuters this week that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's defence policy shift to allow the military to fight abroad for the first time since 1945 could be used by militants as an excuse to attack Japan.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 25, 2015, with the headline 'Japan probing reports of Japanese journalist held hostage in Syria'. Print Edition | Subscribe