Despite passport seizure, Niigata freelance photographer still eager to go to Syria

JIJI

Freelance photographer Yuichi Sugimoto said Sunday that he still wants to travel to Syria, after the Foreign Ministry effectively confiscated his passport to keep him from going to the Middle East country, where the Islamic State militant group recently beheaded two Japanese captives.

“I will avoid reckless activities and take enough measures to protect myself,” Sugimoto, 58, told Jiji Press at his home in the city of Niigata. “I want to go to Syria early and let people know what’s happening in the country,” he said.

In a newspaper interview, Sugimoto has said he would leave Japan on Feb. 27 and enter Syria via Turkey.

Authorities, including the Foreign Ministry, asked him to avoid the trip, but Sugimoto told them that he would not cancel the plan.

On Saturday night, officials of the ministry came to Sugimoto’s home and ordered him to surrender his passport. They told him that he would be arrested if he fails to comply, according to Sugimoto.

The ministry took the action under the passport law’s article 19, which allows it to order the return of a passport if it is judged that stopping an overseas travel planned by the passport holder is necessary to protect his or her life or assets.

The ministry’s order to Sugimoto came after the Islamic State group claimed to have killed two Japanese men in a recent hostage crisis and threatened to slaughter more Japanese nationals. The ministry is concerned that Sugimoto could become a target of the Islamic State if he goes to Syria.

Sugimoto opted to return his passport because he was concerned that he could be taken into custody if he refused the order. Sugimoto also said that he did not want to cause trouble to people who have supported him.

Sugimoto has traveled to Syria twice.

Sugimoto said that he will consider challenging the ministry’s order or filing a suit to nullify it. But he added: “I don’t want to waste my time. I want to have my passport reissued early so that I can start reporting activities (in Syria).”