TOKYO (AP) – A Japanese photographer said Thursday he was forced to give up his passport because he planned a reporting trip to Syria, complaining the confiscation violated his constitutional right of travel and press freedom and took away his work.
Yuichi Sugimoto, 58, told a news conference that several Foreign Ministry and police officials visited his home in Niigata, without appointment, on Saturday, citing the risk of his planned trip that had been published in local media. Sugimoto said, fearing arrest, he handed over his passport.
Japan is still in shock from a recent hostage crisis where two Japanese were allegedly beheaded by militants.
Top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga has defended the measure, the first such case under the passport law, given the risk in Syria and the government’s responsibility to protect its people.
But Sugimoto said confiscating his passport was an abuse of government power and that he feared similar steps might be imposed on other journalists. Sugimoto is a freelance photographer who has covered the Middle east and other war-torn areas on and off for the past 20 years.
“Losing my passport means a loss of my work as a freelance photographer. I feel my entire life is being denied,” he said.
The confiscation came days after Sugimoto twice rejected requests to stop his planned trip – first, in a phone call by the Foreign Ministry and then in a meeting with a local police official.
Sugimoto said he explained to the officials that he planned to only cover refugee camps near the Turkish border and that he had no plans to go further into militant-controlled areas in Syria.