National

Families, acquaintances dismayed by latest video of Japanese hostage

by Kazuaki Nagata, Satoko Kawasaki and Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writers

Shock and confusion Sunday overwhelmed the families and acquaintances of the two Japanese men held captive by the Islamic State group as a new video showed a still image of hostage Kenji Goto holding a picture of what appears to the decapitated corpse of fellow captive Haruna Yukawa.

Yukawa’s 74-year-old father, Shoichi, told the media Sunday he was still holding out hope that his son is still alive and that he will give him a hug if he ever sees him again.

“My mind went totally blank,” he said at his home in the city of Chiba. “I cannot find any other words.”

He said he received a phone call from the Foreign Ministry around midnight Saturday telling him his son, a 42-year-old private security contractor who has been held since August, appeared to have been killed, though it could not be confirmed.

“I hope it is not my son, but I just feel awful,” he said, his voice trembling.

Meanwhile, Junko Ishido, 78, the mother of Goto, a 47-year-old freelance journalist who went missing in mid-October after entering Syria through Turkey, told reporters at her home in Koganei, western Tokyo, that her son “looks to be under a lot of psychological pressure.”

“He looked like he had lost weight (compared with the first video),” she said. “I felt his expression has changed. He looks tense, and I think he is under a lot of psychological pressure.”

Ishido said she appreciates all of the ongoing efforts to save her son, adding that “all I can do at the moment is to wait” for good news.

“Praying (for Goto’s safe return) is all we can do, and I am praying with members of the church,” said Hiroshi Tamura, pastor of the Chofu Church of the United Church of Christ in Japan. Until March 2013, Tamura had been pastor of the Denenchofu Church of the United Church of Christ, which Goto attended.

Naomi Toyoda, a photojournalist who worked with Goto in Jordan in 1996, said he also was pained by Goto’s exhausted appearance.

“Counting from the time the first video of him was released (Tuesday), around 100 hours have passed, but he looks as though he has aged five years,” he said. “I feel terrible, wondering what a sense of terror he must be going through.”

Toyoda, a member of the Japan Visual Journalist Association, said the group is planning to release a statement calling for a “nonviolent solution,” appealing not only to the extremists but the government as well.

Toyoda said the extremists may have read a statement the journalism group issued on its website in Japanese, Arabic and English on Tuesday, the day the crisis erupted. It emphasized its neutral stance on covering wars, saying its members “have been criticizing all forms of violence,” as well as “the Abe administration’s current policies that affirm war.”

The group also said Goto is “one of the very few journalists who has reported on TV and via the Internet on the suffering of civilians in Iraq and Syria.”

In the new video, a man identified as “Kenji Goto Jogo” could be heard saying in English, “Please don’t let Abe do the same (as what happened to Yukawa) for my case. Don’t give up. You, along with our family, friends and my colleagues in the independent press must continue to pressure our government.”

Toyoda said the phrase “independent press” — which is the name of Goto’s one-man office in Tokyo — may have referred to independent journalists in Japan, or the JVJA, and that as long as there is a chance the group’s message is heard by the captors, it’s worth trying to convince them not to harm their captive.

Meanwhile, Kosuke Tsuneoka, a converted Muslim and freelance journalist with links to the Islamic State group, said Yukawa’s execution, if true, is “extremely disappointing.”

Tsuneoka said an Islamic State commander asked him to serve as a witness to its “trial” of Yukawa under Islamic law following his capture in August, as the hostage couldn’t speak English or Arabic.

He said he went to the Mideast in September but failed to see Yukawa, and was preparing to go again in October to work for his release.

But Tsuneoka said his departure was thwarted by Tokyo police, who accused him of helping a student who wanted to join the extremist group and confiscated all of his contact information.

“His life could have been saved,” Tsuneoka said. “The tragedy that befell Yukawa was predictable from the very start. That’s why I was taking all these steps (to save him).”

Information from Kyodo added

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