Japanese journalist freed from three years of captivity in Syria

Posted at 10:32 AM, Oct 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-24 06:42:33-04

A Japanese journalist who was captured by militants in Syria three years ago has been released, the Japanese government confirmed on Wednesday.

Jumpei Yasuda, who was working as a freelance war reporter, has been missing since June 2015.

Japan’s Foreign Minister, Taro Kono, told media in a brief interview that embassy staff in Turkey have confirmed the Yasuda’s identity. Kono said the journalist appeared to be in relatively good health and that the government will help him return to Japan after a medical check.

On Tuesday, at around 11:00 p.m. local time, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters Qatar had informed Tokyo of the development and that the man who is thought to be Yasuda was staying at an immigration facility in Antakya, Turkey.

“Please help me”

Several videos of a man believed to be Yasuda have emerged since he went missing.

In March 2016, a video was posted which appeared to show Yasuda as a hostage. Japanese media confirmed Yasuda’s identity through his family, and while it had been reported that Yasuda was captured by terrorist organization al-Nusra Front after entering Syria, there is nothing in the video that definitely identifies any captors.

Yasuda, bearded and dressed in a sweater and black-and-white scarf, directly addressed the camera in English:

“Hello, I am Jumpei Yasuda and today is my birthday, 16 March. They told me that I can speak what I want freely. And I can send a message through this to anyone. I love you my wife, father, mother, brother. I always think about you. I want to hug you. I want to talk with you but I can’t anymore. Just I can say: Please take care.

“My life, 42 years, all was good, especially since eight years, so happy. I have to say to something to my country: When you’re sitting there, wherever you are, in a dark room, suffering with the pain, there’s still no one. No one answering. No one responding. You’re invisible. You are not exist. No one care about you.”

While the video references the date March 16, CNN cannot confirm the date the video was recorded.

In May 2016, a photo also emerged of what appeared to be Yasuda on social media, holding up a sign that read, “Please help me,” and “This is the last chance.”

Journalist since 1997

Yasuda’s Twitter account was last updated on June 21, 2015, with his last tweet referring to the challenges to his reporting, which had become “no laughing matter.” He also said it would be difficult to continue making updates about his work on blogs and social media in real time.

According to his website, Yasuda has been a journalist since 1997, starting out in newspapers before going freelance in 2003 after a trip to Afghanistan.

He began reporting from Iraq, and had been held in custody several times.

After being held by a militia in Baghdad in April 2004, Yasuda was criticized by sections of the Japanese public for having gone into a conflict zone, and drawing the Japanese government into negotiations for his release.

However, he continued returning to conflict zones and had reported from Iraq and Syria on numerous occasions, according to his website.

A Japanese journalist, Kenji Goto, was executed by ISIS in a highly publicized killing in January 2015 after crossing into ISIS-controlled Syria to report. Goto, a fellow member of Japan’s small community of freelance war reporters, was a friend of Yasuda’s.