Family and friends rejoiced and waited anxiously Wednesday for the return of Japanese journalist Jumpei Yasuda, who went missing in Syria in 2015, as the Japanese government confirmed he had been released and is now in a Turkish immigration facility.
"We are grateful from the bottom of our hearts and deeply touched by this delight," the parents of the 44-year-old freelance journalist said in a statement responding to the news.
"We apologize sincerely for causing great worry and trouble to everyone," they said. "We will wait, hoping to see Jumpei in good health as soon as possible."
Yasuda was apparently taken hostage by a group linked to al-Qaida after entering Syria to cover the civil war. The Japanese government was informed by Qatar on Tuesday that a man had been freed and worked to verify the man was indeed Yasuda.
On Wednesday morning while awaiting confirmation, Yasuda's parents told reporters at their home in Iruma in Saitama Prefecture, near Tokyo, that they had learned about the release at around 11 p.m. Tuesday after being told by Yasuda's wife to watch the TV news.
Wiping tears away with a handkerchief, Yasuda's 75-year-old mother Sachiko said, "I could not do anything but pray for him every day." She said she folded more than 10,000 paper cranes during their son's ordeal, a traditional way of making wishes in Japan.
(Still image from online video in July 2018)
Yasuda's friends from nonprofit organizations supporting refugees in Syria were also keen to see him return home quickly.
Maki Sato, secretary general of the Japan Iraq Medical Network said, "What he witnessed during his captivity is precious information. We want to hear from him to utilize his experience in helping to end the war."
Fusako Yanase, chair of the Association for Aid and Relief, Japan, said Yasuda's situation reminded the group of the need to be mindful of security near the Syrian border where its members are operating.
Journalists with experience of covering danger zones voiced concern about the possibility that reporters could be accused of irresponsibility.
Kosuke Tsuneoka, who was abducted by a militant group in Afghanistan in 2010, said he worries such accusations could intimidate journalists.
"Of course there are people who cannot understand the need to cover a war zone, but without such news coverage, there will be less information to judge the situation," Tsuneoka said.
Journalist Rei Shiba said, "If journalists shy away from such coverage due to fear of being bashed, Japan will not be able to fulfill its role of offering support to countries facing humanitarian risks."