Japan journalist’s new passport bans travel to Iraq, Syria

Yuichi Sugimoto has been reporting from conflict zones for 20 years

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An experienced war photographer has vowed to fight the Japanese government after being issued a passport that specifically bars him from going to violence-wracked Iraq and Syria.

Yuichi Sugimoto, who has been reporting from conflict zones for 20 years, had his passport confiscated in February after he refused government requests to abandon a planned trip to a Syrian refugee camp.

The move came as Japan was reeling from the brutal murders of two citizens -- war correspondent Kenji Goto and his acquaintance Haruna Yukawa -- by Islamist extremists in Syria.

Sugimoto, 58, received a new passport on Thursday, imprinted with the words: “This passport is valid for all countries and areas except Iraq and Syria.”

“Considering what I have done in the past 20 years, I absolutely cannot accept that I won’t be allowed to travel to Syria and Iraq and report from there,” he told local media from Niigata, northern Japan, where he lives.

“I want to continue to demand a normal passport that every ordinary citizen receives,” he said.

The confiscation of Sugimoto’s passport - which is permitted under Japanese law to protect the life of the holder - was the first such instance against a journalist since Japan’s modern constitution came into force seven decades ago.

Sugimoto said he had planned to visit Kobane, a Syrian town near the border with Turkey, where Kurdish forces have pushed Islamic State terrorists out.

Despite being an apparent infringement of journalistic freedoms, the case has made limited waves in Japan, where there is little public sympathy for people seen as taking deliberate risks with their safety.

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