Yasuda’s release, which apparently took place on 19 October, was announced yesterday by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet. Yasuda is now reportedly in the Turkish city of Antakya, where the Turkish authorities are looking after him pending his return to Japan.
“We are relieved by Jumpei Yasuda’s release after a tough ordeal lasting more than three years and we thank the authorities involved in the negotiations, in particular, those of Japan, Turkey and Qatar,” RSF director-general Christophe Deloire said. “Syria continues to be a high-risk area and all parties to the conflict have a duty to allow journalists to exercise their freedom to inform in all circumstances including in war time.”
Yasuda began covering the Middle East in 2003 and was kidnapped for the first time in Iraq in 2004, when he was held hostage for three days. An armed Islamist group kidnapped him in Syria in June 2015, when he was investigating fellow Japanese journalist Kenji Goto’s murder by Islamic State.
Several videos had been released in recent months showing Yasuda in apparently poor health, prompting concern about his survival.
RSF’s tally of the number of foreign journalists held hostage in Syria at the end of 2017 was seven, including Yasuda. RSF has no news about the other six, some of whom have been held since 2012. No recent proof of life has been made public. According to RSF’s tally, more than 20 Syrian journalists could also be held hostage in Syria, although there is no information about their fate.
Syria is ranked 177th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.