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Japan sports figures enter debate about freed journalist


In a rare move by Japanese sports professionals, a number of noted athletes have joined discussions on a divisive topic -- the case of journalist Jumpei Yasuda, who was recently released after being held captive for more than three years in Syria, a Kyodo News report said.

The participation by Chicago Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish and alpinist Ken Noguchi, as well as Melbourne Victory midfielder Keisuke Honda, has given a new twist to years of debate in Japan over whether journalists and volunteer workers should refrain from traveling to parts of the world that the government advises Japanese nationals not to visit.

Since his return home on Oct. 25, Yasuda has faced criticism from netizens who say that the 44-year-old freelance journalist does not deserve any sympathy as he went to the war-torn country in spite of a warning issued by the Japanese government.

They have called on Yasuda to apologize for causing trouble for the Japanese government.

Yasuda's wife had to begin a press conference after he arrived back with an apology to the nation, even before she thanked people concerned for their help leading to her husband's release.

"As a family member, I apologize that he caused many people worry and trouble," Yasuda's wife, a singer who goes by the name of Myu, told reporters at Narita airport.

Darvish questioned the mood among the Japanese public.

"Some say that if you're caught in a dangerous area then it's your own doing. I want them to learn about what happened in Rwanda. It clearly shows what could happen if nobody comes," he wrote in a post on Twitter.

Tweeting about the genocide that occurred in that country in 1994, he continued: "I believe 500,000 people or even 1 million people died. But if other countries had been more involved, it would never have happened."

"Many say it’s someone's own responsibility if they go to a country under a travel ban. But that means they are repudiating the role of journalists covering conflicts," he wrote.

Noguchi warned that "excessive and emotional bashing of Mr. Yasuda" may cause him to limit his journalistic endevors in the future.

The work done by reporters and photographers is "very important" to society, Noguchi said, while urging freelance journalists to draw lessons from the detention of Yasuda in Syria and gather plenty of information in advance about the conflict zones they visit.

"It was good to hear Mr. Yasuda has survived though it seems like there are a lot of different opinions on the issue," Honda, a former Japan national team member, said.

"I go to various countries as I like traveling, and I say whatever I want regarding politics and business. So I always worry that if I was to be taken captive, I could be in serious trouble," Honda said.

Controversy erupted in Japan in April 2004, when three civilians -- a photographer, volunteer worker and freelance writer -- were abducted in Iraq where Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force troops were dispatched following the U.S.-led bombings on the Middle Eastern country.

The abduction case became a high-profile political topic because the captors threatened to kill the hostages unless Tokyo withdrew the troops from Iraq.

The three were freed after eight days after but were subjected to a barrage of criticism after they came home, not only from the public but also from politicians and elite bureaucrats.

Some members of the public blasted them for entering Iraq after Tokyo had asked Japanese citizens not to go there due to the deteriorating security situation, and forcing the government to spend money to bring them home.

Nahoko Takato, the volunteer worker who was abducted, said she suffered post-traumatic stress disorder due to the criticism. Takato worried about Yasuda's state of mind as he was met last week with negative and offensive comments.

"Even though he seemed tough, nobody could stay level-headed (through such a long detention)," Takato said.