CPJ calls on Japan to explore all options for journalist held in Syria

New York, January 22, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by a video released on Tuesday by the Islamic State militant group in which the group said it would kill Japanese freelance journalist Kenji Goto and another Japanese citizen, Haruna Yukawa, if it did not receive a US$200 million ransom within three days.

Goto was kidnapped in Syria in October 2014, according to news reports. CPJ did not previously report on his abduction at the request of his family.

“Kenji Goto’s abduction underscores the high risk of kidnapping in northern Syria, including for international journalists and humanitarian workers who have been targeted solely for who they are and regardless of their intentions,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour. “We call on the Japanese government to explore all available options to resolve this crisis.”

Goto has reported on Syria since the beginning of the conflict, with a focus on the humanitarian crisis. A statement published by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan said Goto “is a journalist whose career has been dedicated to highlighting humanitarian themes such as the promotion of peace, aid for refugees, and an end to poverty.” In 1996, Goto founded the Independent Press news website whose reporting on conflict, refugee populations, and poverty has been featured by major Japanese outlets, including the international news outlet NHK World and the leading national TV network Tokyo Broadcasting System.

Tuesday’s video was released days after the Japanese government pledged US$200 million in humanitarian assistance for countries in the region that were absorbing large refugee populations displaced from fighting in Syria and Iraq, according to news reports. In the video on Tuesday, an Islamic State militant claimed the money would be used to kill women and children and to “train apostates” to fight Islamic State.

Japanese officials said the aid, which was for supporting refugees and providing food and medicine, would be distributed as planned, news reports said.

Prime Minister Shinzō Abe has pledged the return of the hostages as his “top priority,” but has declined to say whether the government would pay a ransom, according to news reports. According to news reports, the Japanese government has paid ransoms in the past, but it denied paying ransom to secure the release of abducted journalist Kosuke Tsuneoka in Afghanistan in 2010.

The video released on Tuesday, which was reviewed by CPJ, was filmed in the same style of the videos released in 2014 that showed the murders of freelance journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff as well as humanitarian workers David Haines, Alan Henning, and Abdul-Rahman Kassig. CPJ estimates that the majority of the approximately 20 journalists missing in Syria are held by Islamic State, including British freelance journalist John Cantlie.