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In an unprecedented move, the Foreign Ministry last week ordered a freelance photographer who planned to go to Syria to turn in his passport. The order was based on a provision in Article 19 of the Passport Law, which states that the government can force citizens to return their passports when it deems it necessary to prevent them from traveling abroad to protect lives or property. This action raises the possibility of a conflict with Article 22 of the Constitution, which guarantees peoples’ freedom to visit or move overseas.

Obviously the ministry took the action in view of the recent case of Kenji Goto, a freelance journalist who was captured and killed by the Islamic State extremist group after he entered Syria. The photographer, Yuichi Sugimoto, reportedly planned to enter Syria from Turkey to cover Kurdish refugee camps and the activities of nongovernmental organizations helping them. He said he hates the Islamic State group and has no interest in covering it. He would not change his mind about traveling to Syria as the ministry and the police tried to talk him out of his plan. Sugimoto only complied when a Foreign Ministry official and a police officer visited his house in Niigata and handed him a written order to return his passport, according to media reports. He said he was told he might be arrested if he did not do so.

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