An association of Japanese war correspondents has called for the release of fellow journalist Junpei Yasuda, who is thought to have been captured by a militant group in Syria in June 2015.
No new information about the 43-year-old Yasuda has emerged since May last year, when a photo of the missing journalist holding a paper sign reading "help me" in Japanese was released on the internet.
"Government-level negotiations are called for to secure (Yasuda's) release," journalist Toshikuni Doi told the April 15 meeting of the Association of Japanese Journalists Working In Dangerous Areas (Kikenchi hodo o kangaeru journalist no kai) in Tokyo. "We call on the Japanese government to work with governments in the Middle East, Europe and the United States, and ask for their utmost cooperation," continued Doi, who has been actively working for Yasuda's release.
At the meeting, participants emphasized the importance of having Japanese journalists on the ground in conflict zones. Freelance journalist Takeshi Sakuragi, who made five reporting trips into Syria from 2012 to 2015, said, "There are a lot of people dying in that place, and terrible things will probably happen. But if someone doesn't actually go there, there is so much that will be left hidden. I want to know those things."
Kyodo News Cairo bureau chief Kazuhiro Kimura stated in a video message to the association, "You can confirm the truth of what's going on by going to the scene yourself. It is an absolute necessity for Japanese journalists to report from where things are actually happening."
For Japanese reporters to enter Syria, they must first negotiate with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for visas -- a laborious process. Reporters are furthermore apparently accompanied by a Syrian Information Ministry minder while actually in the country. However, even under these conditions, the meeting participants were adamant that those who go can monitor events in the war-torn region.
The association was formed in response to the 2015 death of journalist Kenji Goto, who was murdered in Syria by the so-called Islamic State group.