Tokyo court dismisses journalist’s request to lift travel ban to Syria

The Tokyo District Court dismissed Wednesday a suit brought by a freelance photographer seeking the quashing of a government order to surrender his passport, with the ruling further hurting his hopes of traveling to work in war-torn Syria.

In the lawsuit, Yuichi Sugimoto, 60, claimed the Foreign Ministry’s order that he forfeit his passport was an infringement of his right to freedom of travel and of the freedom of the press guaranteed by the Constitution.

But the court said the right to freedom of travel could be restricted for the sake of public welfare, with authorities considering his Syria travel plan too dangerous to allow.

“The foreign minister’s judgment to stop the plaintiff’s travel was reasonable since (the court does) not accept that he was gathering precise information and analyzing the possible danger there,” presiding Judge Takao Furuta said.

Sugimoto said at a news conference held after the ruling that he plans to appeal the decision.

According to the ruling, the ministry ordered Sugimoto to hand in his passport in February 2015. The decision was made due to an assessment that he would very likely be in danger as he planned to travel to Syria immediately after the Islamic State group released beheading videos of two Japanese hostages held in the country.

It was the first time the ministry used the passport law to confiscate travel documents in order to protect an individual’s life.

The court also rejected the plaintiff’s claim that it was unconstitutional that the ministry issued him in April the same year a special passport that was not valid for travel to Syria and Iraq.

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