Tokyo checking hostage video of missing journalist

Mr Yasuda's comments on Twitter stopped abruptly on June 21 last year.
Mr Yasuda's comments on Twitter stopped abruptly on June 21 last year.

Syrian who posted it online says the Japanese scribe was taken hostage by Al-Qaeda-linked group

TOKYO • The Japanese government said yesterday that it was investigating the footage of a man who has identified himself as a Japanese journalist believed to be missing in Syria.

The video showed the man speaking under duress and seeking the government's help.

The government is sensitive to any news of possible Japanese captures abroad after Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants last year claimed to have beheaded war correspondent Kenji Goto, a week after the group also said it killed Mr Haruna Yukawa, a self-styled contractor.

The video of Mr Jumpei Yasuda, widely shown on Japanese TV news programmes yesterday, was also available on Facebook.

It was posted online by a Syrian man who lives in Turkey. The man said Mr Yasuda was taken hostage by the Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front rebel group in Syria, reported public broadcaster NHK and the Asahi Shimbun daily, citing phone conversations with the man.

Speculation in Japan has swirled around Mr Yasuda since last year amid fears he may have been captured in Syria. The Japanese government said in December that it was investigating.

"We are aware of the video and are analysing it," Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters yesterday when asked about the footage posted on an Arabic language Facebook account.

But Mr Kishida declined to comment on whether the government has identified the man on the video as 42-year-old Mr Yasuda.

In the video which lasts for about a minute, a bearded man wearing a black jumper with a scarf around his neck says in English: "Hello, I am Jumpei Yasuda. Today is my birthday, March 16." His bearing was calm but he occasionally paused to show emotion.

"I love you my wife, father, mother, brother... I want to hug you, I want to talk with you, but I can't any more I have to say... something to my country," he said, reading a memo as he sat at a table, a white wall to his back.

"No one is answering, no one is responding, you are invisible," he added, apparently referring to the Japanese government, adding he was "sitting in a dark room suffering with pain".

Mr Yasuda had posted frequent comments on Twitter, expressing frustration that many journalists were staying away from Syria. But the tweets abruptly stopped on June 21 last year.

In his last Twitter post on that day, he said: "I have reported what is happening through my blog and Twitter without disclosing where I am."

He added that unspecified "interference" with his reporting activities had increased substantially to the point that he might not be able to continue.

In the run-up to the January executions of Mr Goto and Mr Yukawa, the Japanese government struggled to make contact with the militants, primarily relying on countries such as Turkey as well as local religious leaders.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2016, with the headline 'Tokyo checking hostage video of missing journalist'. Print Edition | Subscribe