Japan journalist condemns confiscation of his passport to stop him from going to Syria

Japanese freelance photographer Yuichi Sugimoto (right) shows a mandate letter issued by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo Feb 12, 2015. Sugimoto accused the government
Japanese freelance photographer Yuichi Sugimoto (right) shows a mandate letter issued by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo Feb 12, 2015. Sugimoto accused the government of muzzling the press Thursday after officials confiscated his passport to stop him from travelling to war-torn Syria. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - A Japanese journalist accused the government of muzzling the press Thursday after officials confiscated his passport to stop him from travelling to war-torn Syria.

Freelance photographer Yuichi Sugimoto, 58, said he will file an appeal over the move, and was prepared to take legal action to get his travel documents back. "Losing my passport means losing my job as a freelance photographer," Mr Sugimoto told reporters at a Tokyo press conference.

In the first such action against a journalist since Japan's modern constitution came into force seven decades ago, the Foreign Ministry last week took Mr Sugimoto's passport to prevent him travelling, after learning of his plans to visit refugee camps in war-ravaged Syria. The move came with Japan still reeling from the brutal murder of two citizens - war correspondent Kenji Goto and his friend Haruna Yukawa - by Islamist extremists in Syria.

Mr Sugimoto, who lives in Niigata, north of Tokyo, said he has two decades of experience in major conflict zones, including the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. He said he had planned to visit Kobane, a Syrian town near the border with Turkey, where Kurdish forces have recently pushed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants out. "I do not push myself to cross my red lines, which I have learned from my 20-year experience," he said. "Not only do I want to get my passport back but I also worry that this could set a bad precedent for other journalists, and mean they might have their passports confiscated, which curtails the freedom of the press."