Japan seizes passport of journalist planning Syria trip

Move follows brutal killing of Japanese by ISIL and comes amid soaring ratings for PM over handling of hostage crisis.

Japan Abe
Prime Minister Abe's popularity increased after his handling of the hostage crisis [Reuters]

Japan has seized the passport of a journalist planning to travel to Syria following the brutal killing of two Japanese hostages by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group there, according to local media.

It was the first time Tokyo had taken such a measure on the grounds it was needed to protect the passport-holder’s life, the Asahi Shimbun and other news reports said on Sunday.

They said the foreign ministry on Saturday confiscated the passport of Yuichi Sugimoto, a freelance photographer who had planned to enter Syria on February 27 to cover refugee camps among other places.

But the 58-year-old, who has covered conflict zones in Iraq and Syria over the years, said he had no plans to enter areas controlled by ISIL, Kyodo News reported.

“Tonight, an official with the foreign ministry’s passport division came and took my passport,” Sugimoto told the Asahi.

“What happens to my freedom to travel and freedom of the press?”

The passport confiscation came in the wake of the beheadings of journalist Kenji Goto and self-styled security consultant Haruna Yukawa by ISIL.

Non-military aid

It also comes as the Japanese government scored higher public approval ratings following Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s handling of the hostage crisis, polls published this week showed.

Japan’s biggest daily Yomiuri found that support for Abe’s government had risen to 58 percent from 53 percent in January.

OPINION: Abe’s vision under threat

The paper surveyed 1,054 people by telephone on Friday and Saturday for the poll, which was the first since the hostages were killed.

A separate poll released by the Kyodo newspaper on Saturday also showed an increase in support for Abe. More than 60 percent of respondents said they approved of the government’s response to the hostage crisis.

Abe has vowed to step up humanitarian aid to ISIL’s opponents in the Middle East and bring the killers to justice.

The gruesome executions and the recordings of Goto released by the armed group captured the attention of the pacifist nation.

A majority of the Japanese surveyed by both Yomiuri and Kyodo agreed with Japan’s plan to continue humanitarian aid to regions affected by ISIL.

In terms of how Japan should respond to the ISIL threat, 57 percent of people polled by Kyodo said any response should be non-military.

Abe’s popularity had slipped in more recent polls after the resignations of key cabinet ministers and due to Japan’s floundering economy, though his party won a landslide snap election in December.

The killings of the hostages have fanned calls to allow Japan’s long-constrained military to conduct overseas rescue missions as part of Abe’s push for a more muscular security posture.

Source: News Agencies