In a difficult press conference at the FCCJ, the mother of Islamic State hostage Kenji Goto pleaded for mercy and his return. Nine days later, they murdered him.
GIVEN THE CIRCUMSTANCES, JUNKO Ishido did extremely well.
Greeted at an FCCJ press conference by a blizzard of camera flashes, a phalanx of TV crews and questions that, while delivered gently, were still focused on the impending execution of her son by extremists from the Islamic State, she remained largely composed.
The tears came, but that was inevitable given that Ishido was speaking just four hours before the expiry of the 72-hour deadline set by Islamic State for the Japanese government to pay a ransom of $200 million in return for the freedom of Kenji Goto, her son, and Haruna Yukawa. That deadline passed shortly before 3 pm on Jan. 23, with no news from either the group holding the two men or the Japanese government as to their fate.
It took a lot of courage in difficult circumstances and in the full glare of the media in order to plead for her son’s life
Around 31 hours later, a picture with an accompanying soundtrack of 47-year-old Goto reading a statement was released on the Internet. And while it brought a degree of hope for Ishido, it brought a tragic conclusion to the crisis for the family of Yukawa. The still image showed Goto holding a photo of his friend’s decapitated body. On Jan. 25, the government confirmed that it believed that Yukawa had been murdered.
Unfortunately, Ishido's pleas for her son’s release fell on deaf ears. Islamic State announced his killing on Feb.1. At the press conference, Ishido had pointed out her son’s affinity for the region, saying, “Kenji has always been fascinated by the people of Islam and its culture and he has visited your country many times. He bears no hatred toward the people of the Islamic faith.
“My son is very kind and has worked hard for many years to create a better world and to help children,” she said. “If he is released, then I am certain he will continue to do more good deeds around the world.”
Ishido said her son had travelled to Syria in an effort to negotiate the release of Yukawa, a friend who had been captured by Islamic State fighters in August of last year.
“Kenji was always filled with great kindness towards others and a desire to see justice done, and that is why he still went to try to release his friend,” she added.
“I can only pray, as a mother, for his release. If I could offer my life, I would plead that my son be released. It would be a small sacrifice on my part.”
In response to many of the questions that were put to her, 76-year-old Ishido tended to go off on tangents about nuclear energy and world peace, but Justin McCurry, who chaired the event, said that was understandable given the pressure that she was under.
“She was pretty nervous in the anteroom before we came out for the press conference. I'm aware that some people who were there thought that she wandered too far off topic, but it took a lot of courage for her to come to the Club at all at short notice, in difficult circumstances and in the full glare of the media in order to plead for her son’s life,” he said.
She also stated that she was under enormous pressure from friends and family not to go ahead with the press conference, taking phone calls from concerned relatives until shortly before she took to the stage urging her to cancel the event.
“My sense during and immediately after the conference was that she had shown extraordinary courage and resilience in what are, in truth, awful circumstances, in order to get her message out,” McCurry said. “And we can only hope that it was seen by her son’s captors and that they act on her request.”
Repeatedly, Ishido insisted that her son “is not an enemy of Islamic State.” Deeply upset, she at one point offered the hostage-takers her own life in return for that of her son, adding that she had been “weeping for three days” since the video was released and chastising her son for leaving for Syria when his wife had only given birth to their child two weeks previously.
“I wondered how Kenji could have left his family behind like that, but he was determined to save his friend,” she said. “That’s just the kind of person that he is.”
Ishido also made a plea to the Japanese government to intervene to save her son.
“The time left for my son is very short,” she said. “I ask that the Japanese government do everything that it can to help him come home.”
She expressed her appreciation for the “great kindness” she had received from people in Japan and apologized profusely for “the tremendous inconveniences and trouble that my son has caused.
After his murder, AP reported her response, including the simple: “Please forgive me for not finding any words.”
All Club Members including those who knew Goto personally only share her wish that his return had been possible.
Julian Ryall is the Japan correspondent for the Daily Telegraph.