A man believed to be Japanese freelance journalist Jumpei Yasuda, who went missing in Syria three years ago, has been released, the Japanese government said Tuesday.
“Given various information, we believe that the person is highly likely to be Mr. Yasuda,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
Japanese officials are working to confirm Yasuda’s identity after receiving information from Qatar that Yasuda is at an immigration facility in Antakya, Turkey, near the Syrian border.
According to Suga, Yasuda is being protected by Turkish authorities until his identity is confirmed. His wife has also been notified.
Yasuda originally went missing in 2015 after entering Syria from Turkey to report on Syria’s civil war. He was reportedly held by the al-Qaeda-linked militant group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group formerly part of the al-Nusra Front.
The group demanded $10 million in ransom for Yasuda’s release. Whether or not any ransom payments were made to free Yasuda remains unclear, although the Japanese government has refused to pay the ransoms of hostages in the past.
Yasuda has made rare appearances in the media while held hostage over the last three years.
In 2016, a photo emerged showing Yasuda in an orange jumpsuit holding up a sign saying “Please help me,” and “This is the last chance.”
Yasuda also appeared in a video, dated Oct. 17, 2017. In the footage he says in English that he is “fine” and tells the camera “Don’t forget me” and “Don’t give up (on securing my release).”
At the time, the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned Yasuda’s capture and urged for his immediate release.
“We join in solidarity with journalists from around the world in calling for the immediate and safe release of Jumpei Yasuda,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour. “We implore his captors to release him immediately.”
The International Federation of Journalists issued similar sentiments, stressing the bravery of Yasuda in risking his life to document the Syrian conflict.
“International reporters like Yasuda are the ones who are informing the world about the suffering of the Syrian people and their yearning to live in dignity and peace,” Anthony Bellanger, the IFJ General Secretary, said. “We urge his kidnappers to let him go back to his family and friends.”