Japanese gov't stops photographer from going to Syria, confiscates passport

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TOKYO. KAZINFORM - The Foreign Ministry on Saturday stopped Japanese freelance photographer Yuichi Sugimoto from traveling to Syria by confiscating his passport, the first time it has taken such a step.

Sugimoto, a 58-year-old resident of Niigata city in Niigata Prefecture, has criticized the government move, saying it infringes on freedom of speech. The ministry said it took the action in accordance with a provision in the passport law that allows it to confiscate a person's passport to stop them from traveling in order to protect their life. The passport confiscation, coming in the wake of the release of a video purportedly showing the killing of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto by Islamic State militants, could spur discussions about the constitutional guarantee of freedom to travel to foreign countries. Sugimoto told Kyodo News late Saturday and early Sunday that he was to leave Japan for Istanbul, Turkey, on Feb. 27, and then head to Syria after meeting up with a former soldier who he said had previously served as a guide for the slain journalist. Sugimoto said he did not have plans to enter areas controlled by Islamic State, but rather intended to cover refugee camps inside Syria. He was to return to Japan on March 12. "I've been taking safety measures all along. I would definitely retreat if I felt my life was in danger. It is my job to come back alive and tell (my story)," Sugimoto said by phone. Passport confiscation "robs us of our rights and shows that (Prime Minister Shinzo) Abe's government has turned its fangs against the public," he said. "It is outrageous." Given the hostage crisis, the ministry and police had asked Sugimoto to refrain from travelling to Syria, but he remained firm in his decision to go to the war-torn country, prompting officials at the prime minister's office to contemplate action, according to a ministry source. According to Sugimoto, ministry officials and police officers told him in front of his home on Saturday night that unless he returned his passport, he would be arrested. He subsequently complied with the ministry order. Sugimoto says he has covered conflict zones over the years, visiting Iraq in 2003 and traveling to Syria in 2012 and 2013 in connection with his work. Source: Kyodo

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