Associates of Islamic State hostage Kenji Goto called for his release Wednesday, as another apparent deadline in the crisis loomed.
A recording that appeared on the Internet on Tuesday night showed a haggard-looking Goto in a still image accompanied by an audio recording. In the recording, a man who identifies himself as Goto said he would be executed within 24 hours unless Jordan releases Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman on death row who was convicted over a failed 2005 suicide bombing in Amman.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters Wednesday morning the government confirmed the video’s existence at around 11 p.m. Tuesday Tokyo time.
Junko Ishido, 78, the mother of Goto, 47, sent a letter to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday in which she pressed the government to secure her son’s release. The letter was delivered to the Cabinet Secretariat through Mizuho Fukushima, a Lower House lawmaker from the Social Democratic Party.
“Please do your best in your negotiation with the Jordanian government until the very end,” the letter read. “We have very little time left. I ask that every effort be made.”
Speaking to reporters late Tuesday night at her home in Koganei, western Tokyo, Ishido reiterated her claim that her son is no enemy of the militant group.
“I know this is a country-by-country matter now, but I sincerely ask the government look after its people,” she said.
Naomi Toyoda, a photojournalist who worked with Goto in Jordan in 1996, called the 24-hour deadline unacceptably short notice for action and urged Tokyo to do everything possible to reach Goto’s captors and secure his freedom.
“The government needs to show it is at least willing to negotiate and buy time,” said Toyoda, a member of the Japan Visual Journalist Association. The group earlier issued a statement calling for resolution of the crisis through nonviolence and dialogue.
“If there is anything I could tell him, I just want him to know how sorry I am that he has had to wait this long,” Toyoda said, referring to the eight days that have passed since the extremists first showed him in an online video.
Shunpei Tachi, a public relations official at the Japan branch of Doctors Without Borders, said he could only hope that Goto will come through the crisis alive, noting that in the series of images released by his captors, the journalist looked wan.
Tachi said Goto contacted the organization last summer, saying he wanted to reportfrom areas of West Africa hit by the Ebola outbreak and to examine the Doctors Without Borders facilities there.
“He was one of those journalists who were passionate about reporting on humanitarian crises,” Tachi said. “He sounded like he felt he had a mission to shed light on the plight of little-known people.”
Meanwhile, Rev. Hiroshi Tamura, pastor of the Chofu Church of the United Church of Christ in Japan, said he was praying for Goto’s release. Until March 2013, Tamura was pastor at the Denenchofu Church of the United Church of Christ, which Goto frequently attended.
Tamura said the images showed the deep strain Goto is under. “I thought he looked understandably tired, but something about his eyes told me he, too, is still hoping for the best.”
He added: “Together with other people (at church), I will continue to pray. That’s all I can do.”
Freelance journalist Junpei Yasuda, who has also covered numerous civil wars, said he was worried about Goto, with whom he had become good friends. Yasuda said he had met Goto for dinner on a couple of different occasions, and that Goto had always been passionate about debating their work.
“He was a very friendly pal. The moment we met, he was already calling me by my first name,” Yasuda said. “But (in the video) he looked very worn out. It’s not the Goto-san I know. There was not the slightest sign of his usual vigor and pride.”
Yasuda said he himself was detained by an armed group in Iraq while covering the war-torn country in 2004.
During his three-day detention, Yasuda said he was interrogated on suspicion of being a spy. He added that, although he was blindfolded, he was properly fed and never tortured.
But the severity of the situation Goto is going through is “incomparable,” he added.
Information from Kyodo added
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