France-based Reporters Without Borders (RWB) on Tuesday withdrew comments claiming a Japanese freelance journalist is being held hostage by an armed group in Syria, following criticism the premature announcement could endanger his life.
“The release was not drafted according to normal procedure and was not sufficiently verified. It has therefore been withdrawn pending fuller information,” RWB said in relation to a press release issued last week about the alleged kidnapping of war correspondent Jumpei Yasuda.
“We ask Yasuda’s family and friends, and the families of other hostages in Syria, to accept our apologies,” the group said.
It did not elaborate further.
In the initial press release, dated Dec. 22, the group alleged that Yasuda has been in captivity since he was abducted in July by an armed group in Syria.
His captors “started a countdown for the payment of a ransom, failing which they are threatening to execute him or sell him to another terrorist group,” the RWB said, urging the Japanese government to act quickly to protect and free Yasuda as per obligations under international law.
Benjamin Ismail, the head of RWB’s Asia-Pacific desk, also said last week: “We are very concerned about Jumpei Yasuda’s fate and we call on the Japanese government to do what is needed to save this journalist.
“We also urge all parties to this conflict to respect the media’s work and to stop taking journalists hostage for political or financial purposes.”
Last week’s statements raised the ire of several journalists who charged that the group’s assertion lacked credibility and may have even put Yasuda at greater risk.
Among them was Ryoji Fujiwara.
RWB acted “swiftly” in withdrawing the original statement, Fujiwara wrote on his Twitter account Tuesday afternoon, but he stressed that the group needs to take “grave responsibility” for its lapse in judgment.
Yasuda was originally kidnapped “a few hours after” crossing the border into Syria in early July to cover stories related to Islamic State’s execution in January of freelance journalist Kenji Goto, RWB said last week.
Following the execution, Yasuda told The Japan Times in February that Goto’s death shouldn’t serve as a disincentive for journalists to enter dangerous war zones, and that they should be free to make own their judgment, independent of any external pressure.
“Us giving up our (freedom) to make our own decision is equal to forfeiting democracy,” he said at the time.