The Foreign Ministry is considering issuing a new passport that would allow limited travel overseas to a freelance photographer after it confiscated his previous one to stop him from going to Syria, a diplomatic source said.
The passport would likely prevent Yuichi Sugimoto, 58, from entering countries for which the Foreign Ministry has issued evacuation advisories, the source said Monday. Syria is one such country.
Sugimoto rejected the ministry’s idea, saying: “It’s unacceptable if travel to conflict-torn areas such as the Middle East would be limited. How will other democracies look at the act of closing the doors for journalists who plan to go out on news coverage?”
According to the source, the government’s final decision on the passport will be made “sometime soon.”
Sugimoto had planned to travel to Syria to report on Kurdish refugee camps, but the ministry ordered him to turn in his passport in February in the first case of its kind in Japan. The action followed the beheadings of two Japanese hostages by Islamic State militants in Syria.
After failing to persuade Sugimoto not to travel to Syria, the ministry used the passport law, which allows it to confiscate a person’s passport to protect the holder’s life.
According to the source, Sugimoto’s passport is still valid, but in the event the ministry makes an exception and resorts to double issuance of passports, his travel can then be limited as stipulated under the law.
Although the move is in line with a provision of the passport law, the ministry’s action may be called into question in terms of his constitutionally guaranteed right to travel.
Sugimoto filed an application March 20 to get a new passport. He has criticized the government’s confiscation as setting a “bad precedent” for fellow photographers and journalists, saying freedom of the press and his freedom to travel should be respected.
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