Rest in Peace, Kenji Goto. A journalist who fought for peace & was killed in war.

Kenji Goto, a freelance journalist, known for his dedicated reporting on the atrocities of war and humanitarian activities, was killed by the Islamic State (ISIS) circa February 1st, 2015 (Japan Standard Time). He wasn’t a war reporter; he was an anti-war reporter. He shared his knowledge with the world, educating others and learning from them as well.

According to The Guardian: “Kenji tweeted about many things. But one tweet has captured imaginations, seeming to sum up the character of the journalist who was beheaded by Islamic State (Isis) extremists after a months-long hostage ordeal.

The viral tweet is from 7 September 2010: “Closing my eyes and holding still. It’s the end if I get mad or scream. It’s close to a prayer. Hate is not for humans. Judgment lies with God. That’s what I learned from my Arabic brothers and sisters.”

It had 20,000 retweets on Goto’s Twitter account by Monday, and was being repeated by the minute.”

 7 September 2010: “Closing my eyes and holding still. It’s the end if I get mad or scream. It’s close to a prayer. Hate is not for humans. Judgment lies with God. That’s what I learned from my Arabic brothers and sisters.”
7 September 2010: “Closing my eyes and holding still. It’s the end if I get mad or scream. It’s close to a prayer. Hate is not for humans. Judgment lies with God. That’s what I learned from my Arabic brothers and sisters.”

 

All who know him, or know of him, mourn his loss and wish to express our condolences to his family. He went to Syria to report on the real state of affairs there and to try and help his troubled comrade, Haruna Yukawa, get free from the clutches of ISIS. He wasn’t a reckless man, he was a journalist doing what we are supposed to do, report the truth, even in dangerous situations. Trying to save his wayward friend wasn’t his duty as a journalist, but he must have felt it was his duty as a human being. He had noble intentions. His long-time friend and fellow journalist, Toshi Maeda, met Goto two hours before he left on his fatal trip. He was supposed to be back in a week.  Maeda told us, “He has been called a war reporter–he wasn’t, he was an anti-war reporter. He came and lectured at my class at Komazawa University on the importance of maintaining a compassionate perspective when reporting the news and the class was mesmerized by him. He had an immensely positive impact. He was inspirational.”

Kenji Goto’s lecture is still inspirational: War Journalist’ Advocates Human Side of Journalism

Maeda said that Goto had been captured in Syria before; he had managed to persuade his captors to let him go. They recognized he meant no harm and was a force for good. Not this time.

Journalist and humanitarian, Kenji Goto worked to educate and better the lives of people wherever he worked. Humanitarian journalism.
Journalist and humanitarian, Kenji Goto worked to educate and better the lives of people wherever he worked. Humanitarian journalism.

In the end, it seems, he ended up as a pawn between ruthless terrorists and ruthless politicians hell-bent on scoring political capital. We hope that his death does not serve to become a pretext for the thing he most opposed in his life as a journalist–the senseless killing and loss of life inherent in all warfare. As one of his close friends said so eloquently, “Let’s remember Kenji as he lived, not as he died.”

ご愁傷様です。ご冥福を祈ります。

The Committee To Protect Journalists issued a statement condemning his death on the day the video of his execution was released. We’ve reprinted it below.

New York, January 31, 2015–The Islamic State militant group released a video Saturday purporting to show the murder of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, according to news reports. Japanese authorities have not yet verified the footage is authentic, according to news reports. Goto, a well-respected journalist who reported primarily on humanitarian issues, was kidnapped in Syria in October 2014, according to news reports.

“Islamic State militants have proven they do not care if you are a journalist from Syria, from the West or from the East. They only care about expanding their reign of terror,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour. “We are deeply concerned about the safety of all journalists in territory controlled by the militants–and about the information vacuum that has resulted from their bloody, intimidatory tactics.”

Syria has been the most dangerous country in the world for journalists for more than three years. At least 80 journalists have been killed covering the conflict, including one who died over the border in Lebanon. More than 90 journalists have been kidnapped in Syria. Because some abductions are not publicized it is difficult to determine the exact number. CPJ estimates that approximately 20 journalists are currently missing in Syria, the majority of whom are Syrian and believed held by the Islamic State.

Remembering Ms. Mika Yamamoto; War Journalist Killed In Action

One minute of silence for departed Mika Yamamoto.

 

Mika Yamamoto, a well-known and respected Japanese reporter, was killed at the age of 45 in the city of Aleppo in Syria on August 20th allegedly  by the Syrian government army. A Turkish photo reporter, Mrs. Yamamoto and her husband and working partner, Kazutaka Sato, 56, the president of a small independent news agency called The Japan Press was with her in Syria. The three were travelling with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in a zone where the FSA and the government army were fighting over control.

Although there were Free Syrian Army soldiers deployed in front and beside the two Japanese reporters, and although the atmosphere in the area covered looked very safe, with “daily life activities” taking place, “civilians and children playing around,” Mr. Sato did not get the impression that the zone was a battleground. “In front of us, towards the right side, there were several cars parked, and from the shadows of those cars, we saw camouflaged people coming forward, and at that time I thought they were members of the Free Syrian Army and most likely, Mika Yamamoto thought the same. So we started filming.”

At that time, the reporters were about 20 meters away from the people behind the cars. “I tried to confirm their position with my naked eyes, and at that time, I noticed that the individual at the very front was wearing a olive green helmet, which indicated that they are part of the Syrian government forces.” Mr. Sato noticed that the Free Syrian Army soldiers suddenly loaded their guns and someone has shouted, so he immediately shifted to the right side. “As for the position of Mrs. Yamaoto at that time, I think she was between one to three meters to right side of myself.”

“At the moment I took cover, I heard gunshots: one single gunshot and three consecutive gunshots, and then later one this turned to a continuous shots, but at that moment I ran away as fast as I could, and during that time I lost sight of Mika Yamamoto.”

Yamamoto’s body was accompanied home to Japan by Sato, and her funeral was held in Yamanashi, near Tokyo, last week. An autopsy of her body revealed she had been shot nine times, and the exact cause of death was a bullet to the neck that damaged her spinal cord.

“Looking at my tapes, it might be the first single shot that must have killed Mika Yamamoto.” He said at a press conference held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

Mr. Sato discusses the death of his wife, fellow war journalist, Mika Yamamoto, at a press conference.

Mr. Sato went to the Syrian embassy in Tokyo to make a request to investigate what had happened and who has killed Mrs. Yamamoto. Mr. Sato received information from various sources, including the Free Syrian Army. They told him that after the battle, a non commissioned officer was captured and interrogated by the Free Syrian Army. The officer testified that there was a meeting on “operations to target journalists” held two days or a week before the reporters entered Aleppo. The meeting’s purpose was to discuss a mission to abduct journalists, or “assassinate them.” Mr. Sato communicated the name of the officer who gave this information, and requested the Syrian embassy to start an investigation. If within one month, the investigation does not lead to some conclusion, he said, he will start looking for other means to find out the facts of the death of his working partner. The information about the operations to target journalists came from the Free Syrian Army, therefore it still needs to be verified, whether it is accurate or not just a propaganda message from their part.

Mr. Sato also said that both reporters were wearing flat jackets during their coverage. Flat jackets have big steel plates in the front and the back, however in the case of Mika Yamamoto, it seems that a bullet has gone right through the jacket, in her back.

Mr. Sato also reported that after the battle, there were five members of the Free Syrian Army who were killed, and the Turkish reporter who was travelling with Yamamoto and himslef had also been “severely injured.” Mr. Sato does not know where the reporter currently is.

“The Syrian conflict is nothing like the other wars I have covered.”

Mr. Sato said that when his crew entered Aleppo, there were helicopters flying above the headquarters, and jet fighters descended rapidly and dropped about three 250 kg bombs and from a low altitude. “Compared to Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia Herzegovina or Iraq, the situation was completely different in Syria. Despite the fact that the place was a residential area, where general civilians were living, the fact that such things were happening caused me to feel anger and astonishment.”

“There is no other war reporter like Mika Yamamoto”

Mr. Sato and Mrs. Yamamoto first met 17 years ago, and their first coverage together took place in Afghanistan, in 1996 when the Taliban took over Kabul. Mr. Sato pointed out that the conflict zones in the world are mostly Islamic countries, where women are living in a “very conservative world,” where expressing their opinion is very difficult to do. Covering and capturing the lives of women in the Islamic world on camera is difficult, and “Mika Yamamoto, as female journalist, wanted to convey the repression of females in Islamic society to the world.” Mika Yamamoto also had strong feelings towards children living in war zones. Mr. Sato believes that she wanted to report their living conditions.

“For me, there will never be any reporter more capable than Mika Yamamoto. I don’t think there will be any reporter like her in the future, although I hope new talents will emerge.” .

Social Justice is unwelcome in Japanese society – “Can journalism stop wars?”

Although Mrs. Yamamoto was a journalist, she was also teaching what journalism can do to change the world to primary school, junior high school or even university students. “Ms. Yamamoto had a very strong sense of justice, and she felt that what is right is right. However, currently in the Japanese society it is difficult to have such views accepted. More than to adults, she wanted to direct her message to younger people who have more flexible minds.” During her teachings, she used to insist on the value of peace. In one of her classes, a university student asked Mika Yamamoto if journalism can stop wars, and she answered with conviction that indeed it can.

With the death of Mika Yamamoto, other journalists may be intimidated from reporting wars.

A memorial event will take place in Tokyo next month, in the memory of Mika Yamamoto and Mr. Sato said that he will establish a foundation in her name.

Mr. Sato said that the mainstream Japanese media do not go locally to those conflict zones and that he has no information whether Japanese freelance reporters do. He said that many western media were present in the field. “At Japan Press, we have experience in covering conflict areas, and we have specialized this in our coverage. So even if major media sources went locally to such areas of conflict, we have the pride that they would not do a better job than us. In that sense, I do not distinguish members of the mainstream media, independent or freelance reporters.” He said the only difficulties being an independent media is the lack of money. “It would not be possible for me alone to report everything, therefore it would be necessary for a greater number of journalists to cover this war, so that a comprehensive picture would eventually arise.”