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3 years after journalist Yasuda's disappearance, reporters stand behind Syria coverage

Jumpei Yasuda (Mainichi)

Reporters have stressed the growing importance of news coverage in war-torn Syria as the third anniversary of the disappearance of Japanese journalist Jumpei Yasuda approaches on June 23, in spite of online criticism of such reporting as "reckless."

The civil war in Syria took hold of the country from March 2011 and so far is believed to have claimed over 350,000 lives. According to several acquaintances of Yasuda, he headed into Syria from the south of Turkey in late June 2015, but communication with him was lost after he sent a message saying he had crossed the border.

Several Japanese journalists have died in Syria. In August 2012, Mika Yamamoto, a journalist for the independent news agency Japan Press, was fatally shot at the age of 45. Then in January 2015, Kenji Goto was murdered by the militant group Islamic State (IS) at age 47.

Around the time Goto was killed, Yoshihiro Kando, a 47-year-old journalist for online news service BuzzFeed Japan who entered Syria as a then Asahi Shimbun reporter, was berated by a portion of the media as well as online. As the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs had issued an evacuation advisory and asked that news organizations refrain from sending reporters to the area, Kando was branded "reckless" by some.

Kando reported from northern Syria for several hours after IS forces were expelled, alongside about 70 other journalists, protected by members of the Kurdish militia and others who had driven IS fighters out.

"From the circumstances, I thought it was safe. Any other journalist probably would have made the same decision," Kando said. "The slaughter of residents occurs under circumstances beyond anyone's view. To prevent that, the eyes of third parties are necessary," he added.

Ryoji Fujiwara, 50, who was one of Yamamoto's colleagues, underscores the significance of such reporting.

"Just as the British media report in light of Britain's political climate and standpoint, there is significance in reporting from a Japanese perspective," he said.

Photojournalist Toru Yokota, 47, spoke with Yasuda just before Yasuda left Japan in an exchange that shed light on the missing journalist's view of his work. When Yokota asked Yasuda about writing for a book jointly penned by journalists with abundant experience in war-zone reporting, he remembers Yasuda saying, "Rather than just going on and on (about reasoning), I want you to go to the front lines and write what you've seen," stressing the importance of on-site reporting.

Information on Yasuda's safety has dried up. Some journalists have expressed dissatisfaction over the Japanese government's approach, saying there is no evidence it is actively trying to bring him back home. The Association of Japanese Journalists Working in Dangerous Areas, overseen by video journalist Takeharu Watai, 46, last month released a statement urging the government to act.

"Whether the missing person is a journalist or a traveler, regardless of their profession or standing, the government should move to protect its citizens," Watai said.

(Japanese original by Sachi Fukushima and Jun Kaneko, City News Department)

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