With the plight of hostage Kenji Goto still unknown, and his fellow captive apparently executed, friends of the journalist have taken to social media to work for his release, creating an “I am Kenji” Facebook page and collecting signatures online.
Film producer Taku Nishimae, who has been a friend of Goto’s for more than 10 years, began the page with a simple picture of himself holding a placard with the words “I am Kenji” written on it.
Accompanying the picture, Nishimae asks readers to post selfies to show unity with Goto and ask for his release.
While Nishimae’s social media push was inspired by the “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”) movement that emerged after the terrorist attacks in France earlier this month, he says his page is not linked to that campaign.
The slogan was adopted by supporters of free speech after 12 people were killed at the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which had featured several covers depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
Some people fear that a social media campaign like Nishimae’s could push the Islamic State group in the direction of killing Goto.
“Some people pointed that out to me, and I have to stress that this is not the same movement,” Nishimae said. ” ‘I am Kenji’ is to support Kenji as friends, and help each other in this desperate situation. Free speech is important as I’m a journalist myself, but ‘I am Kenji’ is not to promote free speech, it’s here to promote peace and save our friend.”
With over 6,000 likes as of Sunday afternoon, the page has taken off, receiving scores of submissions from people across the globe voicing a show of unity for the 47-year-old captive journalist.
Goto had been held with Haruna Yukawa, 42. A video that emerged late Saturday purportedly showed that Yukawa had been executed by the Islamic extremists after the deadline for paying a $200 million ransom expired.
“We are very shocked and enraged, but it is not the time to show emotion,” Nishimae said. “The last thing we want to do is to attack and stimulate ISIS in any way.”
“It, of course, motivates us even more to voice out the unity and support for Kenji,” he added.
ISIS is another name for the Islamic State group.
Nishimae said that when he first heard the news that his friend had been abducted, he was both shocked and angered.
“I could not do anything for several hours,” he said. After talking with friends, “we decided that we’ve got to do something.”
For Nishimae, giving up the belief that his friend will return unscathed is simply not an option.
“If there is any drop of hope, it’s each one of us not abandoning hope and doing something,” he said.
Meanwhile, on the online petition platform Change.org, at least two types of petitions had collected a total of more than 23,000 signatures as of Sunday.
One of the petitions has a message for Islamic State, asking the group to release the two Japanese hostages, while the other, directed at the Foreign Ministry and the prime minister’s office, requests that Japan suspend its offer of $200 million in aid to countries involved in conflicts with the Islamic State.