BY MAGDALENA OSUMI The Japan Times NOV 2, 2018
Journalist Jumpei Yasuda, who returned to Japan last month after being held by militants in Syria for more than three years, said Thursday that he did not hold any grudge toward the Japanese government over his ordeal.
“I believe the government officials did everything they could,” given their stance of not paying ransoms to terrorists and that gathering information on the situation in that region is difficult.
“I owe an apology to all those who did their utmost to secure my release, and I’d also like to say that I’m deeply grateful for all the efforts” that led to the release, he told a jam-packed news conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.
“I’m really sorry for involving, and thus endangering, the government.”
Addressing a recent barrage of criticism, mostly online, which claimed that Yasuda should take personal responsibility for entering a war zone, the journalist said that he deserved it.
“You enter conflict-stressed zones on your own responsibility, and you can blame yourself if something happens to you,” he said.
Yasuda, who after returning to Japan spent several days in a hospital, said he was still recovering from the traumatic events.
Yasuda was abducted soon after he entered Syria from Turkey via a mountainous route on June 22, 2015. He believes he may have been deceived by people who were meant to be helping him cross the border.
Yasuda said he did not know for certain the name of the group that held him.
However, based on conversations he was part of or heard while in captivity, he concluded that the group may be the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, or the Levant Liberation Committee.
The group was formed from a merger of the Nusra Front and other militant groups.
He said he could keep track of the events because he was allowed to keep records in a diary.
Yasuda said that in late July 2015, the militants informed him that they had demanded the Japanese government pay a ransom. The group was reported to have been seeking $10 million (¥1.1 billion).
Apparently the militants had high hopes that Tokyo would respond to their demand, and they allowed Yasuda to watch television and treated him to sweets and local delicacies while keeping him under surveillance during the first months of his ordeal.
Yasuda said the militants informed him that the government was willing to pay. But in the closing days of December that year, they told him that Tokyo had ceased negotiations.
“During that time, I clung to the idea that the government was trying to buy time,” he said.
Yasuda, who was transferred to various locations over the period of his 40-month detention, was held alongside other hostages. They included Pakistanis and an Italian man, who like Yasuda appeared in a video wearing orange jumpsuits begging for help.
Yasuda said that to scare him and prevent him from leaking information about his whereabouts or the militant group, he wasoften forced to listen to other hostages being tortured. He mentioned that Uighurs were among the militants keeping him under surveillance in the last months of his ordeal.
Militants suspected him of spying, and later played with his emotions by keeping him in a room where he wasn’t able to move, he added.
He said he was given script for most of the videos that militants released for negotiations, some of which were disclosed by media in Japan.
Before filming, he said, he was often required to eat chili peppers because the militants wanted him to appear tearful.
“They assured me they wouldn’t kill me,” he said. He also said his captors repeated promises of a prompt release numerous times, but in the last weeks he felt desperate and told the guards to “either let me go or kill me.”
Looking ahead, Yasuda said he had no idea whether he would return to Syria or neighboring countries to report.
“I go to such places when I want to get information, when I have questions,” he said.
He also stressed that “the role of journalists reporting from conflict-stressed zones is indispensable,” as they observe events impossible to cover and hard to comprehend from the outside.
For example, he said that in Syria he was hoping to obtain documents concerning members and the structure of the Islamic State group, which in 2015 wielded power in the nation and posed a significant threat to the world.
“At that time I wanted to see how the world of Islam works there, whether an outsider can grasp how it works and what problems exist in that society,” he said.
“I still want to learn more about Syria and convey the voices of people living there.”
Canadian held captive in Syria says Japanese journalist Jumpei Yasuda doesn’t deserve criticism
KYODO The Japan Times NOV 3, 2018
NEW YORK – A Canadian also held captive in Syria has said that freed Japanese journalist Jumpei Yasuda should not be criticized for doing his job.
Yasuda, 44, who returned to Japan late last month after 40 months of captivity, has been criticized by some for putting himself in harm’s way by entering Syria alone. He was almost immediately taken hostage by a warring faction that then demanded a ransom for his release.
“I think it is very important for journalists and humanitarians to go to areas where a lot of people don’t or can’t get to,” Sean Moore said in a telephone interview Thursday. “The truth has to be told somehow, and that is a journalist’s job.”
“He (Yasuda) wasn’t carrying a handgun or an AK-47. He was there with a pen, and his punishment for carrying a pen was absolutely brutal and unnecessary,” Moore said.
“Anybody that criticizes him truly doesn’t understand the situation,” said Moore, 48, a resident of Ontario who was freed in February after being held captive for about a month.
Moore also faced criticism when he returned home.
“Many said, ‘Sean Moore deserved it and should have been left to rot in hell.’ I was told I took the risk and now I should pay the price,” he said. “It is difficult to read and hear these comments.”
Moore was taken hostage while trying to help a Canadian woman bring her two sons home from her ex-husband in Lebanon by taking them through Syria and to Turkey.
“He (Yasuda) has been through literal hell. It is easy to put blinders on and walk away,” Moore said.
Yasuda has said he and Moore were held at the same location, and Moore said Yasuda may have remembered his name because he said it every time guards threw food into his cell.
The captivity was “a living hell,” including beatings, Moore said. He was confined in a 90-cm by 1.5 meter cell which was sometimes flooded, and he was fed rotting food.
Moore said he did not see Yasuda at the facility since he was blindfolded and handcuffed any time his captors took him out of the cell.
He also said his captors told him on the day of his release that they were Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. That group formed through a merger of several groups including the Nusra Front.