A citizens' group in Tokyo is taking to the airwaves, trying to contact hundreds of Japanese who may still be alive in North Korea, years after being kidnapped by the communist state. The group has begun beaming a daily half-hour shortwave radio program to North Korea, using a transmitter in a third country. The message to any Japanese in North Korea who may hear it is that they have not been forgotten.
The unprecedented broadcast begins with an announcer telling Japanese in North Korea to hang in there, because "it will not be long until we definitely rescue you."
Soothing piano music plays in the background as the announcer reads the names of possible Japanese abduction victims, the dates when they disappeared and their ages.
An organizer of the grassroots project, Takushoku University professor Kazuhiro Araki, says the group believes North Korea kidnapped at least 265 Japanese, beginning in the 1950s.
Professor Araki says shortwave radio is a good way to reach the abductees, or anyone who knows the missing Japanese. He explains that former U.S. Army soldier Charles Jenkins, who emerged after spending decades in North Korea, has revealed that some North Koreans and foreign abductees secretly tune in VOA and other international broadcasts.
In North Korea it is illegal to listen to foreign broadcast stations.
Japan's government currently acknowledges 10 abduction cases involving 15 Japanese. North Korea previously admitted kidnapping 13 Japanese to train its spies in Japanese language and culture. Pyongyang allowed five of them to return home in 2002 and has said the other eight Japanese died in North Korea.
Professor Araki is a representative of the group known as COMJAN, or the Investigation Commission on Missing Japanese Probably Related to North Korea. He says anyone who hears the transmission is being urged to get a message out that he or she is still alive.
Professor Araki says the broadcasts will include information and instructions for Japanese in the event of upheaval in North Korea.
The program, in Japanese, is called "Shiokaze," or "Sea Breeze." It will air nightly (at 1430 UTC on 5.890 megahertz) for the next year.
Because Pyongyang could try to jam the signal, COMJAN hopes to raise money for added frequencies and more broadcasting time. The group is spending $30,000 for a one-year contract with a British company (VT Communications) that acts a broker for shortwave transmitters in many countries, including Russia.
COMJAN has not identified the location of its transmitter beyond saying it is in a country close to North Korea.