Japanese Journalist Freed from Syria
Jumpei Yasuda, a freelance journalist from Japan, was freed after being held in captivity by militants in Syria since 2015. Yasuda is now being held in an immigration facility in Turkey and is believed to be in a healthy, stable condition. His captors were members of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, which is known for holding foreigners hostage and demanding ransom from their governments. The group was previously affiliated with al Qaeda.
The Japanese government did not pay the $10 million ransom, nor did they negotiate with the captors. Rather, they worked through allies in the region, namely Qatar and Turkey, and took advantage of known information networks to coordinate the release of Yasuda. This reluctance by the Japanese government to fight for Yasuda’s release stems both from government policy and public resentment towards individuals who travel to dangerous countries.
Yasuda had faced hostility when he travelled to Iraq, where he was held hostage for three days with a group of other Japanese citizens. Upon their return to safety, the hostages faced a malicious welcome as individuals criticized them as “Japan’s shame,” even going so far as to say they got what they deserved. In spite of this hostility, Yasuda resumed his freelance reporting in Syria years later where he was once again captured.
Yasuda, in a video from 2016 where he was allowed by his captors to plead for freedom, commented on the Japanese government’s attitude towards those who enter conflict zones. In the video, Yasuda says “I have to say to something to my country: When you're sitting there, wherever you are, in a dark room, suffering with the pain, there's still no one. No one answering. No one responding. You're invisible. You are not exist. No one care about you."
Yasuda’s case has produced debate over Japan’s role in global affairs, particularly its limited participation in humanitarian efforts. Japanese law prohibits the government from paying ransoms or negotiating with terrorist groups. Citizens are expected to follow the advice of the government and stay out of conflict areas, for such activities can undermine Japanese foreign policy. The reasoning behind this cautious outlook on world affairs can be traced to the aftermath of World War II. The U.S. drafted constitution, enacted after the war, barred Japan from having a large standing army.
Such a cautious policy may put freelance journalists like Yasuda in danger abroad, and more individuals are questioning Japan’s role in the Middle East after Yasuda’s release. As humanitarian crises worsen abroad, it may become critical to re-evaluate the role Japan should play as more people become vulnerable to human rights abuses.
Correction: The article states that Yasuda is “now being held in an immigration facility in Turkey,” although Yasuda had already returned to Japan at the time of writing.