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Wednesday, Sep. 5, 2012

Syria urged to probe journalist killing

Yamamoto's colleague demands gunmen be tried, asks Tokyo to act


Staff writer

The Syrian government bears the responsibility of investigating the death of journalist Mika Yamamoto last month in Aleppo and bringing to justice whoever gunned her down, her colleague and partner said Tuesday in Tokyo.

News photo
Speaking out: Journalist Kazutaka Sato, who covered the strife in Syria with fallen coworker Mika Yamamoto, speaks Tuesday at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo. SATOKO KAWASAKI

Speaking at a news conference after formally handing a petition to the Syrian Embassy demanding an investigation, Kazutaka Sato urged that light be shed on the killing. He had been covering the strife between the government and rebel groups in northern Syria with Yamamoto and was with her when she was killed.

"Why the attack was carried out and who was responsible for it must be made clear," said Sato, who was Yamamoto's common-law husband.

In his petition to the embassy, Sato wrote that the attack appeared to deliberately target the journalists he was among.

If the Syrian government is trying to oppress the media through such means, it is "an unacceptable act that threatens the freedom of press," he wrote.

Sato said the embassy responded by claiming Damascus bears no responsibility for what happened because he and Yamamoto were in Syria without proper visas. The pair were covering the civil war in Aleppo.

Autopsy results showed that Yamamoto, 45, was shot nine times, including a fatal wound to the neck.

The last minutes recorded on her camera on Aug. 20 showed what appeared to be progovernment forces approaching, but the footage went blank after shots were fired.

Video images posted online of what appear to be a captured member of the progovernment forces said the gunmen were "deliberately aiming at journalists."

Following Yamamoto's death, Irina Bokova, director general of UNESCO, urged all parties in Syria to respect the fundamental human rights of freedom of expression and journalists' right to carry out their work. Regarding the attack, Sato said that shots were fired from close range and he was surprised to escape unhurt.

But he said he hasn't considered quitting his job despite the incident.

"I need to keep reporting, carrying on Yamamoto's efforts and continuing her legacy," he said.

Sato also expressed hope that the Japanese government will take action and pressure Syria into investigating her death.



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