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Japan defends seizing journalist's passport over IS fears

Photographer had planned to document Syrian refugee camps before he was prevented from traveling

AFP, Tokyo

AFP, Tokyo

Published: February 09, 2015 07:03 AM GMT

Updated: April 24, 2015 02:34 PM GMT

Japan defends seizing journalist's passport over IS fears

Displaced Syrian children sit on a tarp after heavy rains in the Bab Al-Salama camp for people fleeing the violence in Syria on December 11, 2014, on the border with Turkey (AFP Photo/ Baraa Al-Halabi)


Tokyo defended Monday its confiscation of the passport of a Japanese journalist planning to travel to Syria, as the country reels from the execution of two citizens by Islamist extremists.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government took travel documents away from freelance photographer Yuichi Sugimoto, 58, for his own safety, after learning of his plan to cover refugee camps in the war-torn country.

"'Islamic State' has expressed its resolve to continue killing Japanese," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a regular press briefing.

"If a Japanese national enters Syria... we have assessed that there is a high risk that the person would face immediate danger to his life, like being captured by ISIL (militants) and other Islamic extremists," he said.

But Sugimoto, who has covered conflict zones in Iraq and Syria over the years, said he had no plans to enter areas controlled by Islamic State, Kyodo News reported."What happens to my freedom to travel and freedom of the press?" Sugimoto told the Asahi

Suga said the government had given consideration to both the principle of a free press and the government's responsibility to protect the safety of Japanese nationals in confiscating the document.

Japan reacted in horror to the beheadings of war correspondent Kenji Goto and his friend Haruna Yukawa. Their murders have provoked a measure of soul-searching over the direction of Japanese diplomacy.

However, the crisis appears to have done little to dent the popularity of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which inched up 1.4 points to 54.2 percent in a national poll taken Friday and Saturday by Kyodo News. 

Some 60.8 percent of those questioned said they supported the government's handling of the hostage crisis.

The telephone survey had valid responses from 1,015 people.

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The Japanese government had sought help from Jordan to rescue the two Japanese hostages, who were shown in a video released by the militant group late January with a demand for a US$200 million ransom.

Days later, the group released a video of Goto holding a photo of Yukawa's headless body, and changed their demand to the release of a woman jihadist on death row in Jordan.

Amman responded by demanding the release of Jordanian airman Maaz al-Kassasbeh, who was held captive by the militant group. 

The extremist group killed all three men.

In response, Jordan executed two Iraqi jihadists, including the female would-be suicide bomber, and accelerated its air strikes on the Islamic State group. AFP

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