Japanese law allows the government to confiscate a national’s passport in order to protect his life. This step was taken for the first time on Saturday night (Japan time) when freelance photographer Yuichi Sugimoto’s passport was taken to ensure he does not travel to Syria.
The photographer was asked by the Japanese Foreign Ministry and the local police not to travel to Syria, where he planned to document refugee camps, but to no avail.
According to Sugimoto, his refusal led to a visit by government and police officials informing him that he must hand over his passport or he will be arrested.
The World Bulletin reports that the prime minister’s office had to intervene as the photographer would not change his travel plans.
Despite Sugimoto being a seasoned war photographer, who has previously worked in Iraq and Syria, the Japanese government remained firm in their decision.
The unprecedented move took place following the recent execution of two Japan nationals who were captured in Syria by ISIL.
Sugimoto emphasized that he had not ignored the risks involved in such a trip. “I’ve been taking safety measures all along. I would definitely retreat if I felt my life was in danger,” said the photographer, adding that the refugee camps he had planned on visiting were not under ISIL’s control.
Nonetheless, the terrorist organization, which had previously been linked to Al Qaeda, had declared it intends to capture additional Japanese citizens and it was this threat that made Sugimoto’s travel plans impossible.
While this is the first case I’m aware of where a country prevented a photographer from traveling to a war zone (excluding enemy states), the Syrian civil war has led to a form of self-regulation from the media in the past.
Just last year the British Sunday Times told a freelance war photographer to stop sending them materials from Syria as they did not “wish to encourage freelancers to take exceptional risks”.
According to the Press Gazette, photographer Rick Findler was told that despite his “exceptional work” the paper’s policy is not to take materials from Syria as they “believe the dangers of operating there are too great”.
One the one hand Japan’s move hurts Sugimoto’s freedom to travel and it has been said that the move could lead to limited reporting from war zones. On the other hand, Japan claims to be trying to save the photographer’s life and prevent another hostage situation that will force the country to have to deal with terrorists once again.
Do you agree with Japan’s move or should Sugimoto be allowed to travel to Syria?
[via World Bulletin]