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Gov't defends seizing journalist's passport over Syria travel plan


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The rationale seems reasonable, but only on the surface. The government says that it has a responsibility to protect the safety of Japanese nationals. That seems like a very noble statement, except that, in fact, it doesn't really have that responsibility.

Japanese travel overseas all of the time and in many cases it is to engage in activities that may lead them to put their own lives in danger. As do the citizens of other nations. Maybe it is to go to Australia to surf, where the possibility of being killed by a shark exists. Small possibility but it does happen. Maybe it is to travel to Nepal to climb Mt. Everest, where people are killed undertaking an activity that does put their own life at risk.

This is what it means to be a human being with freedom and choice. Individuals should use their judgement as to what risks they are willing to take, but what may be acceptable risk for one individual may not be acceptable risk for another individual. However, unless a government decides that something is illegal, they should not allow it to be legal but then work to prevent people from making a choice to do the very thing they have chosen not to make illegal.

In this case, I would submit, as I have before, that behind the Japanese government's high minded words about a responsibility of protecting Japanese citizens in undertaking this action, the real reason is very simple: meiwaku. The government does not want to have to deal with the nuisance/annoyance of another possible hostage situation. If something happened to this individual and he lost his life, but it did not require the involvement of the Japanese government, I can guarantee you that they would not take this action.

Ultimately, this is about the Japanese government protecting itself and hiding behind noble sounding words to justify its actions.

12 ( +18 / -6 )

They should let people go, but no negotiations, discussions or rescue attempts when the inevitable happens and these fools get abducted.

I am all for personal freedom, but handing Isis bargining chips in the form of "journalists" is not the smartest plan.

6 ( +9 / -3 )

So should the Japanese Govt. just let go, have the risk of being kidnapped, ransom and possibly beheaded for all the world to see? Should Japan just let that happen and have the Japanese public mourn another death, with his family and friends suffered for something that could've been avoided?

I don't doubt that Japan mainly did it for avoid another humiliating incident by the loss of another Japanese citizen, but doesn't mean what they did was wrong.

The world seen how Japan suffered from that beheading, most of all, we cannot begin to imagine how much pain and suffering Haruna Yukawa, Kenji Goto, their families and many others who had experience a lost of a loved ones via beheading by a radical religious group as IS. What's wrong with trying to prevent another one?

-6 ( +6 / -12 )

That seems like a very noble statement, except that, in fact, it doesn't really have that responsibility.

Exactly right. Japan has no responsibility to protect its citizens from dangers which might exist outside of its territory. At most, it only has a responsibility to protect those inside Japan from foreign attacks.

If Suga thinks the government does have this 'responsibility', then it would mean that Japanese people must have a corresponding 'right' to sue the government if something horrible happens to them in a country that the government knew or should have known was dangerous. This is clearly not the case.

Also, the test for justifying the infringement of constitutional rights such as freedom of the press is to balance it against the general public interest, not one individual citizens personal safety.

11 ( +14 / -3 )

@Seiryuu_Dan: Absolutely understand the sentiment here, which is why I think many people think that this action by the Japanese government is justified. And I appreciate the noble idea of trying to protect people from themselves and I believe many people truly hold this idea.

I don't think the government was that high minded, I think they just didn't want to have to deal with another situation and the headaches it would cause them. Yes, maybe they have concerns for their citizens well-being as well, but I think the primary concern was to protect the government itself.

That said, as to the substance of your question, allowing the government to begin to protect its citizens from their own actions is a very slippery slope. Where does one draw the line? Who makes that determination? I saw the news of the 20 year old Japanese female raped by a "tour guide" in India. She was travelling there alone. Should the government now confiscate the passports of all single Japanese women who wish to travel to India alone, on the basis that they might put themselves in situations that lead to their harm?

This is the difficulty around a government limiting choice to protect its citizens from harm. However, I also believe that if a government truly believes certain choices should be restricted, they should take the more obvious route: pass a law or regulation restricting that activity.

In this case, surely the Japanese government could have passed a law or an administrative rule that made travel to Syria illegal and subject to criminal prosecution until further notice, except with specific permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Not dissimilar to what the U.S. did for travel to Cuba, although I am not in any way suggesting that I condoned that action. At least this way it is clear and transparent for its citizens to see.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

The government should work on disassociating Japan from all the activities that help humiliate people socially, economically, violently to such a degree they feel there is no other means than to respond with violence themselves.

Rather, in this move to confiscate the journalist's passport, we see that the state would seek to perpetuate domination and control and use terror to enable the removal of the few liberties we have left. The fact it is a journalist suggests the state would rather us not know the truth so it can impose its own version.

1 ( +7 / -6 )

Japan is smart to block this in light of current events- it's better to have people complain and argue over a perceived lack of freedom within the country than to have to scramble and lose face and life on the international stage.

More-over unless there is a formal ban as zones2surf said, this man could simply have flown to any country in Europe and then transited through on a later flight.

-3 ( +7 / -10 )

What is the real cost for taking his travel documents? Police surveillance in Japan 24 hours/day, police background checks for him and all his contacts, police reaction if he decides to take matters into his own hands, court time and warrants, ........ Let him go and don't worry about his safety, worry about the citizens' safety. Finally, the media cannot continue to provide an open platform for propaganda. The more drastic and revolting the actions IS takes, the more worry the country experiences.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

As I see it, there are only two roads: either make it illegal to travel to Syria, and, thus, no ine can go, or let people who want to go, no matter how foolish it may seem, go. There should be no other options.

Here we have a clear case of Japan, still struggling with the concept of being a democracy. They still haven't quite figured it out...

but doesn't mean what they did was wrong.

Incorrect. That's exactly what it means. Either you let people have freedom, complete freedom, even to do stupid, pontentially harmful things to themselves, or you don't. If not, where do we draw the line? Can people go parachuting? Can they drive a car after midnight? Can they go fishing in rough seas? The confiscation of a passport is simple because one cannot travel without one, but daily in Japan, people act foolishly without the government interfering. How is that OK?

I suspect more journalists have gone to Syria (and war zones in general) not having getting killed/injured than the ones who have.

-2 ( +5 / -7 )

Zones2surf makes some excellent points and besides that,

The UN Declaration of Human Rights states,

Article 13.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country. "

Another question is, why is this individual being singled out?? There are other Japanese citizens and journalist who are being allowed to travel there, why the double standard?

2 ( +4 / -2 )

lose face and life on the international stage.

Lose face? Seriously?

I find the option of losing face far better than losing freedom.

Zones' point of perhaps banning people from going to India struck me as well - it seems unsafe. How come they don't confiscate passports of people planning to go there as well?

0 ( +3 / -3 )

So if I'm allowed to travel somewhere outside of Japan, and I can mugged, can I sue the J-government as they were responsible for letting me go? Better yet, can the families of Goto and Yukawa sue them? They've said themselves in this case they are responsible for this man's safety, and Abe has said he is responsible for the safety of Japanese abroad, so is he therefore not responsible for them?

-8 ( +6 / -14 )

@Knox Harrington

Here we have a clear case of Japan, still struggling with the concept of being a democracy. They still haven't quite figured it out...

Your comment suggest that some countries actually have. Which?

0 ( +4 / -4 )

@Knox: I should have been more clear-

What I mean is, if this man were allowed to go to Syria and IF he were kidnapped, it is most likely he would die after long and drawn out back-and-forth negotiation between Japan and ISIS. There is no win scenario if he is taken and it only causes Japan to look bad as it struggles to try and save a hostage.

The problem is that people expect the gov't to come to the rescue whenever bad things happen. As was seen with many people blaming Abe directly for the situation. He instigated, but he can hardly be called responsible for the whole thing.

I should have been clearer in my first statement: I don't like it, but I think restricting his movement is the lesser of two evils ultimately. End result here is academic debate as opposed to the very possible loss of life and/or many man hours of work and/or money.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I think they recieved information that groups were planning to target Sugimoto and cant reveal this information for fear of compromising their sources.

FWIW I would have still let Sugimoto go, hes an adult, but things aren't always as black and white as they appear in eikaiwa teaching land.

I think other governments (Canada? Australia?) should look into confiscating the passports of nationals deemed too emotionally immature to live in a foreign land.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

Yuichi Sugimoto's plan to cover refugee camps in Syria was ill-conceived. The Japanese government probably saved his life.

Had Sugimoto given some thought to his goals a trip to Jordan would have given him more credibility and support from the Jordanians and the Japanese government.

The story of refugee camps in Jordan is as desperate as Syria's camps. Certainly his work would be of equal, and perhaps greater value, considering the Jordanians and Japan's shared tragedies at the hands of ISIS gangsters.

reference: New York Daily News "Feb 09, 2015 · Prince Charles has toured a sprawling camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan"

4 ( +5 / -1 )


All you people in here seem to have missed the fact that journalists are a necessity, and sometimes, they have to put themselves at risk. Most of them are aware of what they are doing.

But, by the logic of all you safety junkies, nobody would have ever covered WW1, WW2, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, the Gulf War, well, any conflict areas, really. Thankfully, we have people not listening to naysayers like you and the world is a much better place for it.

Journalism serves a purpose when all of us others zone out in the couch in fron of the TV, a few other brave souls risk life and limb to tell stories about how things really are. I respect that very much.

-3 ( +4 / -7 )

If he can pay 100 million deposit to government they should let him go to Syria...If he pay another 100 million he can take friend with him.....

0 ( +2 / -2 )

.......Once again the govt BLOWS IT!

Common sense once again missing form the equation, those that took this guys passport pls go stand in the corner & wear your dunce caps!

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Actually, I'm not sure if this is so in Japan but in many countries your passport is not actually yours, it's your goverment's property, so theoretically, they have the right to seize them.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

as the country reels from the execution of two citizens by Islamist extremists.

Bit of an over-exaggeration I would say. The media, as usual, is playing this out for all it's worth and the people would be better served by a discussion about the issues that face Japanese people, good AND bad, when travelling overseas, AND what would be even more helpful would be an honest look at how people in other countries view the Japanese people and keep the comedy out of the discussion!

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Maria M, in fact, the passports from every country are the property of that government and, by extension, so are the bearers. It's the Slave Card. This is one aspect of the lifework of Garry Davis:that all people are World Citizens and the holder of the World Passport is the owner, not any government.

The journalist's right to travel was violated. Prisoner of Abe.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

I think journos have a tough job but I can't say I respect all of them, look at the lives lost after journo Steven Farrell arrogantly ignored repeated warnings about not entering a certain area. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/6163453/Army-anger-as-soldier-killed-saving-journalist-who-ignored-Taliban-warning.html

Plenty of journos covering the conflicts in the middle east travel with coalition troops, not 100% safe proof but that is the way to go. Not freelancing with zero protection.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Here we have a clear case of Japan, still struggling with the concept of being a democracy. They still haven't quite figured it out..

This action actually has a legal basis in Japan's passport law, which gives the Foreign Ministry the right to do this. So this is being democratically done.

As for whether it is sound, I frown on restriction of freedom. On the other hand, how many JapanToday commentators wrote something to the effect that Abe should not have "provoked" the terrorists wit his aid? Which is to say, Japan's Foreign Affairs (national strategy) should be adjusted to the needs of one or two Japanese. Since some people think that way, it is clear that the matter has gone well beyond Individual Responsibility, and requires the involvement of the State.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

As I have already posted a couple of thoughts on this, I will try to avoid repeating previous posts.

In 2014, a freelance U.S. journalist, James Foley, was beheaded by ISIS in Syria, as many already know. It was very public and, indeed, led to a strong reaction in the U.S. There has been much discussion around the U.S. government's handling of his being taken hostage and subsequent death, with some criticism of that handling, and of the announcement of his murder, given that President Obama went golfing immediately after speaking about it.

However, and I must repeat, however, at no point prior to that or after that has there been any serious discussion in the U.S. about making travel by U.S. citizens to Syria (or Iraq) illegal. Nor has there been any contemplation given to the confiscation of passports of U.S. citizens planning travel to this area, although action clearly has been taken against those planning travel to this region FOR THE PUPROSES OF JOINING ISIS, to include arresting these individuals for potential terrorism charges.

What the U.S. has done and what it always does is issue Travel Advisories for high risk destinations to warn U.S. citizens of the risks of travelling to any given destination. The advisories also include the scope of services the U.S. government will/will not be able to provide in these destinations. Here is the travel advisory for Syria:


This service is part of what the U.S. State Department does and they do it very well. This warning for Syria makes the risks abundantly clear and urges all U.S. citizens to avoid visiting Syria but does not ban them from doing so. And, of course, it provides a contact point should a U.S. citizen travel to Syria and run into trouble, knowing that there may be some citizens that will find themselves in this part of the world, journalists and aid workers chief among them.

The average U.S. citizen would expect that fellow citizens that decide to travel to this part of the world despite the warnings should understand the risks, take responsibility for their actions, and recognise the limits of what the government may be able to do if they get into trouble. At the same, there is an expectation that the U.S. government would do what it can to assist U.S. citizens that find themselves in trouble, regardless of the circumstances leading them to be in the situation, even if it is limited and precludes certain actions, such as negotiating with terrorists. That is the job of the U.S. State Department/Foreign Service. That is what they are paid for.

Contrast that with the approach of the Japanese government in this case. The contrast is stark.

Freedom is something to be cherished, even the freedom to do risky or stupid things. With that freedom, though, comes the need for personal responsibility, judgement/common sense, and an understanding of the potential consequences of one's own actions. No individual should want the government to restrict that freedom unnecessarily, even if it is done for one's own protection.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

Actually, I'm not sure if this is so in Japan but in many countries your passport is not actually yours, it's your goverment's property, so theoretically, they have the right to seize them.

Some country's passports do say this (I don't know about Japan) but it's actually somewhat meaningless. Even if you assume that the passport is the Japanese government's personal property, the Passport Act strictly limits when the government is allowed to ask for it back to just a handful of situations.

1 ( +1 / -0 )


You are lucky you like the American way and you are probably an American. But this is a different country, Japan putting restrictions on the Japanese people, not on non-Japanese. So, nothing to worry about.

0 ( +3 / -3 )


Not to worry, I am not worrying about this. I am just making comments & observations as a participant here and hopefully doing so in a value-added manner. Obviously Japanese citizens need to decide what actions they want their government to take/not take.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The Japanese Foreign Ministry is FINALLY starting a network at all their embassy's and consulate's throughout the world where Japanese travellers or expats register with them online and then received automatic warnings and information as well as being used to keep the government notified of their residence while overseas.

A similar system has been in place for years with other countries in the world and Japan is finally getting on board.

Doubtful that it would have helped in this recent case, but it should assist and help people travelling overseas feel safer and in the "loop".

If there is any silver-lining in the recent cloud of events this is one, and kudos to the FM for getting it started.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Islamic State (sic) has succeeded, then, in one of it's twisted aims. It has terrified the Japanese Govt into an act which may cause division and controversy and internal pressure on them. It also keeps these thugs in the news. Everyone going on about ransom money - get real. Japan was never going to pay a ransom and it was 'smart' of IS to understand how asking for one would stir up Japan. Anyway the point of money is mute because if the Govt did not pay before they certainly will not if it happens again. I just wonder if someone had organized the cash, would the government have blocked it's delivery? And if they are restricting one man from putting himself in danger, why are they not restricting Japanese people going to Ebola-affected areas who may return infected and put thousands in danger? That is inconsistent. Japan has blinked.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

@Maria M

Actually, I'm not sure if this is so in Japan but in many countries your passport is not actually yours, it's your goverment's property, so theoretically, they have the right to seize them.

But is not the government the representative of the people? In which case the passport is actually ours and we have only granted the government the authority to issue and control its use as long as this representative body acts responsibly following our wishes. So two pertinent question are, is the Abe government following the wishes of the people of Japan when it takes away the passport of a journalist who has done nothing wrong? Are the people willing to use government resources in the case of a problem to guarantee their right to know what is going on in the world?

I cannot speak for the Japanese citizenry, but I would not support such a government and truth goes beyond the value of extra government worker's hours or the image of blundering politicians.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

If they let them go and say they won't pay any money for ransom nor try any rescue attempts then the Japanese families of these people will forget those conditions at that time and beg the govt to pay to save them. It can't be both ways!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Sugimoto is an adult, and not outwardly challenged. He should be allowed travel as he chooses, especially with the notice of the danger. 100% safety is not possible.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Japan and US are in a very different situation. 1.Japan does not produce oil. 2. Japan has maintained good relations with ME countries in part because of no religious relation. So, I don't think Japan wants to hurt the relationship with those countries because of some Japanese traveling.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

At the same, there is an expectation that the U.S. government would do what it can to assist U.S. citizens that find themselves in trouble, regardless of the circumstances leading them to be in the situation, even if it is limited and precludes certain actions, such as negotiating with terrorists. That is the job of the U.S. State Department/Foreign Service. That is what they are paid for.

Exactly. the government us there for the people and should do whatever it can to help people with what means it can. Revoking passports to journalists is, as far as I know, unheard of in modern democracies. It is the way of least resistance, the way of heavy handed tactics when citizens won't listen. It says a lot about Japan and how it views personal freedom with how they have handled this case. Troublesome, but not surprising if you read what Abe+cronies want to do to current Japanese constitution. Maybe this is just a preview...

-3 ( +0 / -3 )


Completely agree that Japan and the U.S. are in a very different situation, although I don't necessarily agree with the factors to which you attribute this difference.

Nevertheless, let us assume that your analysis/assessment is correct. In asking Sugimoto to relinquish his passport and in defending its actions, the Japanese government made no mention of Japan's relationships with ME countries as the reason or a reason for doing so. They simply referenced the government's responsibility to protect the safety of Japanese nationals in doing so.

It is always possible that there is more to this than the government is disclosing, but I doubt it. Again, absent any evidence to the contrary, it is not unreasonable to assume that this is really driven by a desire by the Japanese government to avoid further unpleasant situations that could embarrass the government and/or make the Foreign Ministry officials work overtime.

If the Japanese government was truly worried about the safety of Japanese travelling to this region, the easiest thing would be to issue a law or regulation making it illegal to travel there for now, absent Ministry of Foreign Affairs approval. This would make it clear for all Japanese citizens and would allow the government to regulate travel to this part of the world. Undoubtedly those Japanese that work for, say, NHK or the Yomiuri Shimbun would get approvals, as would those working for UNHCR, etc.

1 ( +1 / -0 )


Another big difference is that Japan can not use self defense forces to help any Japanese hostages, (which Japan is deliberating on now).

I don't think embarrassing or overtime is the reason. It's just that huge national interest or public welfare is at stake. And this is done by law, the Passport Law allows confiscation in case of danger although this is the first time this law has been applied.

0 ( +1 / -1 )


Fair enough. You seem to see the reasons why this makes sense and why the government should be able to do this and you take what the government says at face value.

I don't. Not because I dislike Abe or anything. I have outlined a number of my reasons in my posts, starting with the first post in the comment section.

That said, there will be fellow Japanese that share your views, there will be Japanese that share my views, and there will be a large number that just aren't sure what to think or that are apathetic.

I believe it is the responsibility of citizens of every country to examine the actions taken by their government in a critical manner to ensure that these actions reflect the wishes of the citizens. As I think Japanese citizens should do in this case.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Big Brother/Big Daddy taking responsibly for the children. I recently overheard a conversation about a mother not letting her 20.yo son go to Hawaii but to "ISLAM" and all but 1 (my wife) agreed. Laughable. "The history of free men is never really written by chance but by choice; their choice!" Dwight D. Eisenhower

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This self-proclaimed journalist 杉本祐一's personal blog had been dug out. According to his blog, North Korea is the paradise, Man-Gyong Bong is a rescue ship, Sea of Japan is East Sea, and etc. His past activities are also listed and it's possible that Public Security Bureau has kept on eye on him. Surprised left-wing media doesn't mention his background and his ties with some political parties at all. Hmmm....

1 ( +2 / -1 )


So your point is? Because he has different views than yourself he shouldn't have journalistic freedom?

-1 ( +2 / -3 )


He was lecturing at meetings organized by Revolutionary Communist League, has a possible connection to 元カメラマン五味宏基アンマン国際空港爆破事件 (another "journalist" visiting overseas causing trouble (in this case, he bombed the airport and killed innocent civilian) in a danger zone, wasting tax money,) and etc. He is more likely to be anti-Japan and anti-government than an ordinary "journalist." If his purpose wasn't to stir up the pot, why did he leak his travel plan to Syria in the first place anyways?

Asashi Shimbun journalists crew went against government's request. The government didn't revoke their passport. Mr. Sugimoto Yuichi's case is an extreme case.

You should read his blog.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

"by the logic of all you safety junkies, nobody would have ever covered WW1, WW2, ect. ect ect" - comments

By the logic of historical fact, journalists didn't swing vine to vine to get the story with a typewriter in one hand and a brownie in the other. Journalists were usually sponsored and backed by known publishers.

Sugimoto probably knows from experience simply announcing at the departure gate he's off to Syria two weeks after ISIS beheads Japanese nationals isn't going to go with a yawn and a wave bye-bye.

Dumb plan, unsponsored and apparently unaccredited by any news organization, Sugimoto succeeded only in flagging himself as loony. Want to get into Syria? You'd better be prepared with more than a camera and a smile.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

You can not save people from their own stupidity. All this means is the other freelancers will get the documents out of Japan. There are no restrictions to travel to Turkey so they can get the documents there to enter Syria. Although I don't think you need any documents, really. Japan should just make a policy like the US then there is no problem. If you know the risks, the government has no responsibility for you if you go into a danger zone. Syria is not the only place people get kidnapped and killed.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Had the government not taken Sugimoto's passport, we'd just see an awful replay of what happened to Goto and Haruna. Before that happens, however, we would get to see another replay of the man being exploited by ISIS for propaganda purposes and Sugimoto's family members & friends demanding the government do whatever it takes to free him.

It looks like the Japanese government just saved itself from a major headache.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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