Thursday, May 26, 2016


Tracking Islamic State

Friend Of Japanese Hostage Starts 'I Am Kenji' Facebook Campaign

A woman holds an "I Am Kenji" sign on social media in support of the campaign to free Japanese hostage journalist Kenji Goto, who is being held by Islamic State (IS) militants threatening to kill him if their demands are not met.
A woman holds an "I Am Kenji" sign on social media in support of the campaign to free Japanese hostage journalist Kenji Goto, who is being held by Islamic State (IS) militants threatening to kill him if their demands are not met.

A friend of Kenji Goto, the Japanese journalist held hostage and threatened with execution by the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria, is waging a campaign on Facebook and Twitter calling for his release.

The campaign was started by Taku Nishimae, who runs a video-production company in New York and who has known Goto for over a decade, according to the Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun.

Goto appeared alongside another Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, in a video released by IS on January 20. A militant speaking in British-accented English demanded that Japan pay a $200 million ransom to release the two men.

On January 24, IS claimed it had executed Yukawa and said that Goto's release now depended on the release of an Iraqi woman, Sajida al-Rishawi, who is being held in a Jordanian prison in connection with a triple bomb attack in Amman in 2005.

The campaign asks Facebook and Twitter users to post and tweet photographs of themselves holding a card that says "I Am Kenji" in order to show unity with the Japanese hostage.

"Let's show that we're united and tell that it's unjust to kill innocent civilians and it's meaningless to turn entire nation [sic] against you," the Facebook group says.

The I Am Kenji campaign also makes clear that it is not about freedom of speech but about showing solidarity with Goto.

"Kenji Goto is not a hostage because of his writing as a journalist," the Facebook page says. 

A post from January 23 explains that, "We're united by friendship with Kenji, not by religious belief, nor by political association. We have solidarity with Kenji beyond race, nationality, and language. Under any law, under any religious belief, killing the innocent is unforgivable crime, and gravest sin."

The Facebook campaign has already generated over 12,400 "likes" and its timeline includes photographs shared by Facebook users not just from Japan but from many different countries.

Some of the photographs include messages expressing friendship to Muslims.

"Dear Muslim friends, please save KENJI!!" one woman, Ria Nakamura, has written on a sign.

Another woman wrote,"Peace. I am Muslim and Free Him. I Am Kenji Goto."

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Mahmoud Reza Tolouee from Bojnord in Iran wrote the "I Am Kenji" message in English and Persian.

The Japan-Syria Friendship Association (JSFA) has also used the campaign to post a message to the IS group.

"We...strongly implore you to release Japanese hostages. Their lives are irreplaceable for their families, Islam is absolutely innocent from any acts by [the IS group] or other groups killing people in exchange for money or any political propaganda. Please stay on with human brotherhood and mercy," the message reads.

On Twitter, the campaign attracted over 2,760 followers in under 24 hours. Using the hashtag #IAmKenji, Twitter users have tweeted photos of themselves holding the "I Am Kenji" sign as well as artwork in support of Goto.

One user tweeted a collage of photographs of Goto. "This is Kenji Goto. He loves children & Syrian people. He has a 2-month-old baby in Japan," the tweet said.

The I Am Kenji campaign is not the only way that Japanese and other supporters of Goto and Yukawa have used social media to express that support. Immediately following the release of the IS video on January 20 threatening the two hostages with execution, Japanese Twitter users defied the threats by creating and sharing images that mocked the militant group and its ideology.

Goto's mother, 76-year-old Junko Ishido, has also made a public appeal for her son's safe release, saying that he was not an enemy of the IS group but had been motivated by humanitarian reasons.

According to reports, Goto went to Syria in October to try to negotiate the release of Yukawa.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

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About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena

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