Japanese freelance reporter Jumpei Yasuda feared missing in Syria

by Shusuke Murai

Staff Writer

A freelance reporter and close friend of Kenji Goto, the journalist executed by the Islamic State terrorist group in January, may be missing in the same country where his compatriot was beheaded.

A freelance war correspondent, Jumpei Yasuda appears to have gone missing in Syria, where he has reported on that country’s civil war, after regular updates to his Twitter account and blog stopped late last month.

Suspicions that he may have gone missing in the country came to light at news conference last Friday when reporters asked Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida about Yasuda’s situation.

Kishida said the government had not received any information regarding his condition or whereabouts.

A senior Foreign Ministry official said Monday that the ministry has still neither received reports of Yasuda’s capture nor confirmed he entered Syria.

Activity on Yasuda’s Twitter account, which he frequently updated — sometimes daily — has been halted since June 20.

His last tweet mentioned that he had been facing “serious, no-joke resistance” to his reporting and that it would be difficult to continue updating his situation in real time via social media.

Yu Terasawa, a freelance journalist and close friend of Yasuda, told The Japan Times on Monday that he believes Yasuda was probably in Syria for reporting purposes and had been captured there.

Terasawa said he last met with Yasuda in March before he reportedly entered Syria and talked with him about Goto and what he could have done to have prevented his capture and, ultimately, his death.

“I believe Yasuda will again be able to escape whatever trouble he is in this time and return (to Japan),” Terasawa said. Yasuda was abducted and held hostage by an armed group in 2004 while traveling near a combat zone in Iraq.

Terasawa said when he met him in March, Yasuda described the situation in Syria as “terrible” for journalists attempting to report in war-torn areas.

Terasawa also said he had heard that Japanese officials had entered an area near the Syrian border in Gaziantep, Turkey, citing an email he received from a “credible” source that he declined to identify. He described the person only as a non-Japanese national living in Turkey.

Toshi Maeda, another freelance journalist and an acquaintance of Yasuda, also expressed concern about his fellow reporter’s current whereabouts.

“Personally, I don’t want to see Goto’s situation happen again,” said Maeda, who added that he last met Yasuda several months ago but didn’t hear where he would go next.

In his war reporting, Yasuda, 41, has entered numerous conflict zones. In 2004, when he returned to Japan after his ordeal as a hostage in Iraq, he expressed regret about not properly understanding the dangers of entering war-torn areas, but said he felt that it was his mission as a journalist to report on the sentiments of local people.

When The Japan Times contacted Yasuda in January after Goto’s murder, he said he would never halt his activities even after the tragic death of his friend.

In a June 19 tweet, Yasuda criticized Japan as a “cowardly nation,” complaining that even experienced journalists get warned by police and are pressured to evacuate immediately to safe zones just for entering Syria, while journalists from other nations — even young reporters from student-organized media, enter Syria to report on the local situation.

The Foreign Ministry has issued an evacuation advisory to Japanese nationals planning to enter Syria, including a recommendation to defer all travel to the country — the highest-level warning — although it has no binding power.

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