The organization Reporters Without Borders alleged this week that one of its journalists, Japanese national Yasuda Jumpei, has been kidnapped in Syria and his captors are demanded an unspecified ransom from his family and government in exchange for his freedom.
The organization said it had received notice on December 21 that Yasuda was under the custody of an armed group that was “threatening to execute him or sell him to another terrorist group” if they were not paid. Reporters Without Borders did not specify which armed group in Syria had contacted them or what sum the group was demanded.
“Given the nature of the matter, I would like to refrain from commenting on details,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a press conference Thursday, Reuters reports. He added that the Japanese government was aware of the case and seeking more information on Yasuda’s whereabouts, following the Reporters Without Borders demand the Japanese government intervene to save Yasuda’s life.
Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun quotes a friend of Yasuda who says he does not believe the Reporters Without Borders claim. Kosuke Tsuneoka, a freelance journalist, told the newspaper that, “while the statement touches upon a ransom request, no such demand has been made to Yasuda’s wife and family. The information lacks credibility because its source is unclear.” Tsuneoka noted that he had been in touch with Yasuda’s family and they had not received any notification regarding Yasuda’s abduction.
Yasuda disappeared in Syria in July, in an area of the country known to be controlled by the Al Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda affiliate group. At the time, the Japan Times noted that Yasuda is a “close friend” of Kenji Goto, a fellow Japanese journalist who was beheaded by the Islamic State in January, and that he had become a vocal critic of the Japanese government, calling Japan a “cowardly nation” for encouraging its citizens not to travel to Syria and for warning journalists to stay out.
The Japan Times also notes that Yasuda had survived abduction once before, having been taken hostage in Iraq in 2004 while there for reporting.
Jihadists in Syria targeted Japan earlier this year, with the Islamic State releasing a video showing the beheading of the aforementioned Goto. In the video, the terrorist performing the beheading notes that Goto’s murder is allegedly in retaliation for Japan pledging hundreds of thousands of dollars to nations under attack by ISIS. Speaking to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the executioner says, “because of your reckless decision to take part in an unwinnable war, this knife will not only slaughter Kenji, but will also carry on and cause carnage wherever your people are found. So let the nightmare for Japan begin.” Abe’s government refused to pay a $200,000 ransom to free Goto and fellow captive Haruna Yukawa, who was also executed on video.
The move sparked a political backlash against the Abe administration from elements of the left. Opposition party members protested that Japan has no place in the war against radical Islam and pledging aid to those in need only unduly compromises Japanese citizens.