社説:旅券返納命令 前例にしてはならない

February 10, 2015(Mainichi Japan)
Editorial: Exercise prudence in restricting overseas travel
社説:旅券返納命令 前例にしてはならない

Passports serve as the most effective official identification cards for their bearers when they travel overseas. The Foreign Ministry describes passports on its website as the second most important things for their bearers next only to their lives. Therefore, the ministry's confiscation of the passport of a freelance photographer who had planned to visit Syria in late February to gather news should not be regarded as a precedent.
The ministry took the action under Article 19 of the Passport Act, which allows authorities to order individuals to return their passports if it is necessary to force them to call off their planned overseas trips to protect their lives or assets. This is the first time that the clause has been invoked to confiscate a passport since the law came into force in 1951.

Article 22 of the Constitution guarantees citizens the freedom to travel overseas along with the freedom to change their residence and choose their occupation as their inherent rights. Moreover, freedom of the press is inevitable in a democratic society, which is guaranteed by journalists' news-gathering activities.

On the other hand, the ruthless Islamic State (IS) militant group now rules some areas of Syria. The photographer had intended to go to northern Syria in a bid to cover refugee camps and other places that are not under the rule of the militants. However, it would be almost impossible to completely eliminate risks of being targeted by the militants.
 他方でシリアは、イスラム過激派組織「イスラム国」(IS=Islamic State)がまだら状に支配している。カメラマンはシリア北部に入り、ISの支配下にない難民キャンプなどを取材するつもりだったというが、リスクを完全に遮断できるとは思えない。

The IS has released the painful images of two Japanese hostages, whom the group claims it has murdered, and threatened to target any Japanese national wherever they are. Should the photographer be confined by the Islamic State group, it would not only endanger his life but also adversely affect Japan's diplomatic policies. In the latest hostage crisis, the Jordanian government got involved in the case, demonstrating that the adverse effects of terrorism could spread to the international community.

The photographer's plan to visit Syria was reported by some media outlets after the hostage crisis came to a tragic end. It was only natural that the Foreign Ministry urged the photographer to call off his trip, considering that the timing of his planned visit to Syria was so close to the time of the recent hostage crisis and that if he were to be attacked by terrorists, it would have a serious political impact on Japan.

What is regrettable is how the ministry forced the photographer to cancel his trip.

The fact that the Foreign Ministry had never ordered anyone to return their passports under Article 19 of the Passport Act highlights the seriousness of the impact of such an order. Without a passport, it is impossible for anyone to travel overseas. As such, the ministry should have sought other methods to avoid forcibly imposing restrictions on the freedom to travel overseas guaranteed by the Constitution, though there was little time to act.

The Foreign Ministry has so far urged members of the public to refrain from visiting certain countries or evacuate depending on the countries' levels of danger. There are calls within the ruling coalition for more effective measures to force members of the public to refrain from visiting dangerous countries or areas. However, such measures would allow the government to intervene more deeply in people's daily lives under the pretext of protecting Japanese nationals. It could also lead to indirect media regulations.

The government should exercise prudence in restricting Japanese nationals' overseas travel and treat the latest measure as an exception.

毎日新聞 2015年02月10日 02時30分

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