Journalist released from Kurdish detention vows to continue war reporting

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

Freelance journalist Kosuke Tsuneoka, who was released this week from detention by local military forces in northern Iraq, said Thursday in Tokyo that the ordeal will not discourage him from reporting in conflict zones.

At a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, the 47-year-old Tsuneoka told of his 12-day ordeal while also expressing concern about how Donald Trump’s win in the U.S. presidential election could negatively affect the situation in the Middle East.

Tsuneoka was held by the Asayish — the Kurdish security force — in the city of Irbil while covering an offensive against the Islamic State aimed at retaking Mosul. He was held on suspicion of being a member of IS.

“I have been in the news quite a lot for being detained … and I would like to express my apologies to those who were concerned about my whereabouts and my situation,” he said.

But Tsuneoka stressed that as far as he knows, he was the only Japanese journalist in Iraq despite the significant presence of reporters from around the world.

“I felt very much the need to report and convey what is going on,” he said. “I hope to be able to return and continue my reporting.”

Tsuneoka rebutted earlier claims that he had been doing translations for IS, blaming the local Kurdish media outlet Rudaw for erroneous reporting.

“This information was completely false and has no grounds,” he said.

In the end, Tsuneoka said it was a key chain that had caused all of the grief.

During his earlier travels, he had received a key chain with an IS logo and kept it in the belief that it might come in handy in future reports.

Tsuneoka, a Muslim, said he is “fundamentally against the Islamic State and the system of caliphate.”

Emphasizing that he did not feel in danger while in Iraq, he expressed concern about Jumpei Yasuda, a friend and fellow journalist feared to have been abducted last year in northwestern Syria.

Yasuda is believed to have been kidnapped by the Nusra Front, an al-Qaida-linked militant group known to fight on behalf of the Syrian opposition.

He said Trump’s win “may bring about enormous change.” He said Trump might not be willing to stop Russia or President Bashar Assad’s forces from attacking civilians in the area.

Trump has said the United States should treat Russia and the Assad government as allies in the belief that leaders of both countries are on the same side in the fight against IS.

Tsuneoka said he is worried Trump might take a harder position against groups opposed to Assad that could be harmful to Yasuda’s situation.

“The group has never executed anyone kept in their custody,” but those working against the Assad regime may revert to more radical ways, he warned.

Tsuneoka was released Monday and handed over to officials from the Japanese Embassy in Baghdad.