Friday 17 November 2017

Tweet 'a memorial to slain hostage'

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has defended his handling of the IS hostage crisis
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has defended his handling of the IS hostage crisis

Social media users have embraced a four-year-old tweet by Japanese hostage Kenji Goto as a poignant memorial to the slain freelance journalist.

On his Twitter account, 47-year-old Goto mused about French wine, complained about his tired eyes, and talked to camera, reporting live from Syria.

But one tweet has captured imaginations, seeming to sum up the character of the journalist who was beheaded by Islamic State extremists after a months-long hostage ordeal.

The tweet which has gone viral is from September 7, 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 today, and was being repeated by others by the minute.

The account was verified as Goto's by his friend Toshi Maeda, who heads Tokyo-based venture Pacific Bridge, which created the mobile-video application Goto used for some of his reports from Syria.

The message of tolerance seemed to resonate with the thousands of Japanese Twitter users, expressing admiration for Goto's reporting about the suffering of children in Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

An English translation of that tweet, originally in Japanese, was also circulating on Twitter.

Goto was shown with another hostage and his friend, Haruna Yukawa, in a video purportedly by the Islamic State group last month. Despite negotiations by the Japanese and Jordanian governments, Goto was beheaded at the weekend.

Yukawa had earlier suffered the same fate.

Goto's last tweet was in October, about the time he left for Syria, to rescue Yukawa, who went missing last summer.

Earlier Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe defended his policy toward terrorism, as the flag at his official residence flew at half-staff in a mark of mourning for the two slain hostages.

During a long day of parliamentary debate, Mr Abe parried numerous questions about his handling of the hostage crisis.

Abe said his announcement of 200 million dollars in non-military aid for the fight against the Islamic State group, made during a visit to the Middle East just days before the militants demanded the same sum for the two hostages, was meant to convey Japan's strong commitment to battling terrorism and fostering peace and stability in the region.

Some have questioned that decision, saying Mr Abe should have been more cautious and not mentioned the Islamic State group by name.

Responding to a question by an opposition lawmaker, Mr Abe confirmed that he was aware of the hostage situation when he made the announcement.

He said he wished to publicise Japan's contribution to the fight against extremism, and rejected the idea of a more cautious approach.

"As international society seeks to restore peace and stability in the Middle East ... I thought it would be the most appropriate destination to visit, and that I should broadcast my message to the world from there," he said. "I thought announcing Japan's contribution to fulfill its responsibility would contribute to the international community's effort to fight against terrorism and prevent its expansion."

Mr Abe said he did not see an increased terrorist risk following threats in a purported Islamic State group video that vowed to target Japanese and make the knife Goto's killer was wielding Japan's "nightmare".

"The terrorists are criminals," Mr Abe said. "We are determined to pursue them and hold them accountable."

Still, Japan has ordered heightened security precautions for airports and other public transport and at Japanese facilities overseas, such as embassies and schools.

The government also has called on journalists and others in areas near the conflict to withdraw, given the risk of further kidnappings and other threats.

Goto's wife, Rinko Jogo, said in a statement that she was devastated but proud of her husband.

"I remain extremely proud of my husband, who reported the plight of people in conflict areas like Iraq, Somalia and Syria.

"It was his passion to highlight the effects on ordinary people, especially through the eyes of children, and to inform the rest of us of the tragedies of war," she said.

Press Association

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