A journalist’s past: Who was Kenji Goto?

World Today

(FILES) A file handout photo taken on October 27, 2010 and released by an international relief organization on January 21, 2015 shows Japanese journalist Kenji Goto delivering a lecture during a symposium in Tokyo.  (AFP PHOTO / HANDOUT)

As Islamic State militants continue there violent rampage of beheadings in the Middle East, they claim the life of yet another journalist. On Saturday afternoon, ISIL released a video in which they showed the beheading of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto. This disappointingly occurred after days of efforts by diplomats to save Goto’s life.

Yet as often happens during news coverage of terrorist acts, we learn more about the killers than we do about the victims.  So who exactly was Kenji Goto?  CCTV America gives you a look at the man behind the ISIL hostage crisis.

The journalist: Not your war reporter


Japanese journalist Kenji Goto speaking about the Middle East at a public event in Tokyo (AFP PHOTO / HANDOUT)

We start with Kenji as the journalist. Goto, 47, was a freelancer known for his work covering refugees and children in war zones. Goto’s friends and family have said he was far from a thrill seeker. Rather, he covered wars to bring light to injustice and the suffering of people in conflict zones.

“Children, the poor and the needy, those are where he is coming from. He just wants to meet children in conflicted areas and tell the rest of the world their suffering,” fellow freelance journalist Toshi Maeda said. “As he follows their stories, he ends up in war zones.”

Goto was motivated by his Christian faith, said Hiroshi Tamura, the former pastor of Denenchofu Church where Goto was a member. He described Goto as a journalist who always stood on the side of little people in dangerous areas.

Earlier in his journalistic career, Goto started a video news company called Independent Press (founded in 1996), covering mainly conflicts and poverty, as wall as refugees and children in war zones. Goto also worked with UNICEF and the U.N. refugee agency.

Goto was very persistent about Syria and wanted to go to Raqqa, an Islamic State hub in the country. Maeda said he possibly went to film U.S. airstrikes in the area.

Goto was scheduled to give a talk last month about his reporting trips to Syria at the UNICEF office in Sendai, Japan.

The mentor: Out to rescue a friend

 Japanese hostages Kenji Goto, left, and Haruna Yukawa (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Japanese hostages Kenji Goto, left, and Haruna Yukawa (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Next we turn to Kenji the friend, seeing as how his commitment to friendship may in fact have led to his eventual capture by ISIL militants.

Goto was a friend to Haruna Yukawa, a man who was reportedly obsessed with guns. It is believed that Yukawa went to Syria to train with fighters.

Yukawa and Goto met last April when Yukawa was caught and detained by anti-government militant group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in northern Syria. Goto was used as an interpreter for the group to interrogate Yukawa. Goto had apparently won the group’s trust from his previous reporting visits and negotiated Yukawa’s release.

Yukawa regarded Goto as a hero for his journalistic work, and following the meeting posted photos of the two together in their subsequent meetings on Facebook.  Goto seemed to have been a mentor to Yukawa. Yukawa was a weapons geek who wanted to set up a private security service despite having few language skills and scant experience.

Following their meeting, the two returned to Japan and were separately in and out of Syria. In August, however, Yukawa was captured by Islamic State militants. Then in late October, just two weeks after his wife gave birth to their child, Goto left for Syria to try to rescue Yukawa.

Goto was also seized by the militants, with his Twitter feed ending Oct. 23.

The hostage: A life for ransom

Japan Islamic State

People walk by a screen showing TV news reports of Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, held by the Islamic State group, in Tokyo Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Now we come to the identity of Goto much of us already know: the ISIL hostage. On Tuesday, Jan. 20, ISIL released a video that showed both Goto and  Yukawa. The two men were shown in orange jumpsuits, kneeling on the ground as a masked, knife-wielding militant spoke. The man had an ultimatum for the Japanese government: pay a $200 million ransom by Friday, Jan. 23, or the two men would be killed. The deadline passed without payment.

A second video released on Jan. 24 showed a still photo of Goto holding a picture of what appeared to be the body of Yukawa. It included a recording of a voice claiming to be Goto, saying his captors now wanted the release of a prisoner held in Jordan instead of a ransom. The public was eventually led to assume the video was not a fake, and Yukawa had in fact been killed.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his country remained resolute in the fight against terror.

“These sorts of terrorists acts of violence are outrageous and unforgiveable,” the prime minister said. “I feel deep resentment and resoolutely condemn these acts. I would like to again strongly call for no harm to be done to Kenji Goto and for his immediate release.”

Until Saturday, international actors remained skeptical but hopeful that negotiations would lead to Goto’s eventual release. Even so, Goto sadly met the same fate as his friend, the “adventurer,” Yukawa.

The son: ‘He always cared about other people’

Junko Ishido, the mother of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto (AFP PHOTO / Toru YAMANAKA)

Junko Ishido, the mother of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto (AFP PHOTO / Toru Yamanaka)

As much as we have seen Goto’s face in the public eye lately, we have also seen the face of his mother, Junko Ishido. Goto’s mother was understandably horrified throughout the entire ordeal.

“His face looked extremely nervous,” his mother said in reference to the second video released on Jan. 24. “I think he feels gravely about what is to come. I think that is what it is. This is no time to be optimistic.”

Later on, Ishido, 78, would be seen shaking and struggling to hold back tears as she talked about her son the hostage, while camera shutters whirred.

“Time is running out. Please, Japanese government, save my son’s life,” she said Friday to a packed room of journalists, wiping away tears with a white handkerchief. In Japanese fashion, she apologized repeatedly for “all the trouble” her son was causing the country and its people by being an ISIL hostage.

“My son is not the enemy of the Islamic State,” Ishido said. “He went over there all by himself, simply hoping to rescue his friend.”

Ishido said she was angry that her son had gone into Syria to search for Yukawa so soon after his wife had given birth to their child, but given his character she understood why.

“Even before he could walk, even when he was just tottering on his feet, whenever he could be with other children, he would always show great kindness to them,” she said. “So I believe he always cared about other people.”

The symbol: ‘I am Kenji’

Japan Islamic State

Protesters hold signs stating “Free Kenji” during a rally outside the prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

Despite how Goto’s life journey may have ended at the hands of Islamic State militants, perhaps it can be said that a part of Goto’s dedication for justice lives on in Japan’s unifying plea: “I am Kenji.”

As Goto’s plight gripped the world, his home country’s hopes for his safe return paved the way for a Facebook slogan that quickly grew popular within Japan.

“We want Kenji to come home,” said Taku Nishimae, a Japanese filmmaker living in New York. Nishimae started the “I am Kenji” Facebook page after seeing the Jan. 20 video threatening Goto’s and Yukawa’s lives.

The page asked people to post self-portraits holding signs reading, “I am Kenji.” The page now has over 45,000 “likes.”

“Killing him is killing the voice of people who’s really suffering. He never took side for any nation nor any religion. He always took side for the people. Please Release Kenji. Please Save Kenji,” the Facebook page said.

About a thousand people have posted photos, some of them portraits holding handwritten messages, some identifying themselves as Muslim, but all with the same message.

The slogan has taken off, and “I am Kenji” signs could even be seen at the demonstration of about 1,000 people outside the prime minister’s office on Jan. 27, demanding the government do more to save Goto.

“It’s great people are getting inspired,” said Nishimae, who knew Goto for 12 years. “Even now, I can’t believe it. But it is Kenji. It feels so unreal.”

This story was compiled with information provided by the Associated Press.

You can also view more of the “I am Kenji” movement on Twitter below: