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Japan Seizes Syria-Bound Photographer's Passport Amid ISIS Fears

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Photo: Saku Takakusaki. License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs confiscated the passport of Japanese freelance photojournalist Yuichi Sugimoto on February 7, citing his intention to travel to Syria.

The unusual decision by the Japanese foreign ministry resulted in protests, notably from foreign media, who argued that the Japanese government had violated Sugimoto's rights.

Video: Sugimoto's press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (with English translations).

The controversy brings to light the issue that, compared to societal or cultural attitudes in the US and Europe, it could be argued that Japan as a culture is not as committed to protecting individual rights as other countries.

The decision by the Japanese government to seize Sugimoto's passport comes in the wake of the brutal murder of two Japanese nationals, journalist Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa, by ISIS at the end of January. Their executions came as a profound shock to Japan as a whole, which until the murders had never considered itself as being seriously regarded as an “enemy” or adversary by any group.

This national perception changed overnight. There is now a vague sense in Japan that there are some places that are not acceptable for travel. Instead of questioning why a journalist's rights have been taken away, the common question posed by society instead is, “Why would anyone ever want to travel there?”

Obviously no Japanese person wants to see such cruel murders repeated, and this societal sentiment may have played a key role in the foreign ministry's decision to confiscate Sugimoto's passport.

However, whatever the reason, it should not be so easy to overlook the fact that a freelance photojournalist has had his passport confiscated. While preventing travel to Syria may served as a valid reason to take Sugimoto's passport, going forward there must be thorough debate if another such case arises.

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