The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

A Sad End

 

dcj japan hostage crisis-201501230230

dc kenji Goto support rally-201501300742 dc kenji Goto support rally-201501302377A sad piece of news this morning when a new video by so called Islamic State (ISIS) appears to show the beheading of Japanese freelance journalist, Kenji Goto.

His fellow hostage, Haruna Yukawa (who Goto San returned to Syria in an effort to free by negotiating with ISIS) was supposedly killed a week ago; a few days after they were first shown on screen, kneeling in the desert, as prisoners of the self styled Islamic caliphate. (top photo)

At first their lives were to be ransomed for 200 million US Dollars. This amount matched the pledges of non-military assistance Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had made, in a shockingly inept piece of international diplomacy considering he knew Japanese hostages’ lives were at stake, to those fighting ISIS terrorism while on a tour of the middle east.

Having convinced the world that they were serious with the cruel death of Yukawa san the demands got strange for a week. The usual videos were replaced with audio recordings that might or might not have been Goto San and obviously photoshopped images helped move the demands on to the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, an al Qaeda prisoner and failed suicide bomber, from a Jordanian jail where she is facing the death penalty for terrorism attacks in Jordan in 2005 that killed 60 people. The Jordanian government were surprisingly open to the deal at first, dependent obviously on the additional demand that a fighter pilot of theirs, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh whose plane crashed over ISIS held territory in December 2014, was also released.

For a while, at the end of the week, there was even a feeling of very cautious optimism that Kenji Goto might actually get out of this alive. Rallies of support tried to pressure the Prime Minister to do more to ensure that and an “I am Kenji” campaign started; mirroring the “Je suis Charlie” movement that grew in response to the terror attacks in Paris. As the Thursday sunset deadline for al-Rishawi’s release came and went though the hope began to ran out. ISIS were unwilling and perhaps unable to prove that the pilot was still alive and the deal that people so desperately wished for seemed to stall and then fade.

Over Friday and Saturday the silence from ISIS on the fate of the two captured men was deafening. A last, hopeful rally by around 200 supporters outside the Prime Minister’s home on Friday night (photo 2 and 3) showed how much the story of this man’s life had affected the population. Despite reports, like this one in TIME magazine that many people didn’t care and actively blamed the hostages for their predicament, I feel many people really saw something nobel in the efforts of Kenji Goto especially to help the much weaker, and perhaps judged as much less worthy, Yukawa.

Sunday morning many people who had followed this convoluted drama for the last week or so woke up to find the TV showing a worryingly familiar image on the screen. This time though there was only one man kneeling in the dust wearing that orange jump suit. This time the distracting talk of digital manipulations and them not really being there as captives was pointless. Jihad John roughy held Goto’s neck and angrily told the people of Japan that they were now targets in an “unwinnable war” as he waved a knife around. He then apparently decapitated Kenji San with that knife.

I know not one person who is not sad and angry at this. Kenji san, who I never met, was a good man by all accounts. He cared deeply about the lives of those that suffered and were affected by conditions they did not control. This is probably why he foolishly went back to held Yukawa san gain freedom because he had suffered many unlucky situations in his personal life and been drawn to the danger of reinventing himself as a Military contractor in Syria and Iraq. The world has  lost a good man who died to help a man whose story he felt equally sad as those of the children and women afflicted by war that were the staple of his reporting. I hope we do not forget them as we are bound to forget the man who dedicated his life to telling their stories.

RIP Kenji Goto San

Damon

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