Japan’s Foreign Ministry has come under fire for confiscating the passport of a journalist who was intending to travel to Syria. War correspondent Yuichi Sugimoto, 58, was planning to visit Syria to cover events in refugee camps later this month, but was ordered to surrender his travel documents to authorities.
Under Japanese law, the ministry can confiscate a person’s passport to protect their life, but this is the first time the law has actually been used. Critics say the action contravenes the constitutional guarantee of freedom of movement and foreign travel.
Sugimoto, of Niigata in central Japan, had previously been asked by the ministry and Japanese police not to travel to Syria. The freelance photographer and war journalist, who has over twenty years’ experience, planned to leave Japan for the war-torn country on February 27th.
He was visited by police on Saturday and told he would be arrested if he did not surrender his passport. He complied in order to avoid arrest, he said, adding:
“I will avoid reckless activities and take enough measures to protect myself … I want to go to Syria early and let people know what’s happening in the country.”
Calling the confiscation of his passport “outrageous”, Sugimoto said that the ministry’s actions were a violation of his rights. Freedom of movement, including foreign travel, is codified in the Japanese constitution.
Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press briefing that, after the execution of two Japanese hostages by Islamist extremists in Syria last month, “if a Japanese national enters Syria … there is a high risk that the person would face immediate danger to his life, like being captured by ISIL or other Islamic extremists.”
Suga stressed that the government has a responsibility to protect Japanese nationals. “The Islamic State has expressed its resolve to continue killing Japanese,” he added.