Japan seizes passport of Syria-bound journalist

Silent rally for Kenji Goto, 1 February 2015 Image copyright AFP
Image caption People have held silent rallies for journalist Kenji Goto, who was killed by IS militants in Syria last month

Japan's authorities have seized the passport of a journalist planning to travel to Syria, local media say.

It was necessary to confiscate Yuichi Sugimoto's passport in order to protect his life, the authorities said.

The 59-year-old photographer, who had planned to enter Syria on 27 February, described the move as a threat to the freedom of press.

Two Japanese hostages were killed by Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria in January.

However, Mr Sugimoto told reporters that he had no intention to visit areas controlled by IS.

It is said to be the first time the Japanese government has taken such a step.

The foreign ministry says it is in accordance with a provision in the country's passport law, that allows a confiscation in order to protect the passport holder's life.

Mr Sugimoto, who has covered conflict zones in Iraq and Syria before, insists he has always taken precautions and retreated when in danger.

"What happens to my freedom to travel and freedom of the press?" he told the Japanese paper Asahi Shimbun.

He said he was planning to travel to Turkey before entering Syria with a former soldier who had previously worked for Kenji Goto, a fellow journalist who was taken hostage, and killed in Syria last month.

A second Japanese citizen, Haruna Yukawa, was also kidnapped and killed by IS militants.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Recent polls say approval ratings for Mr Abe's government have gone up

After the handling of the hostage crisis, approval ratings for the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have gone up, recent polls show.

Two separate surveys conducted by the Yomiuri newspaper and Japan's news agency Kyodo indicate that up to 60% of people approve of the way the government dealt with the crisis.

A similar percentage also said Japan's support to countries affected IS should continue to be non-military.

In January, Mr Abe promised $200m (£130m) in non-military aid for countries fighting Islamic State.

Officials said that much of the $200m fund would be focused on helping refugees displaced from Syria and Iraq.

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