The Foreign Ministry ordered a journalist to surrender his passport to prevent him from traveling to war-torn Yemen, a move the freelancer decried as a violation of his constitutional rights.

It was the second time in a month for Kosuke Tsuneoka, 49, to be denied travel to Yemen.

Tsuneoka was scheduled to leave Tokyo on Feb. 2 for Yemen via Qatar and Sudan to cover the country’s famine problems. He said he had notified the United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP) and Doctors Without Borders about his coverage plans in Yemen.

But during embarkation procedures at Haneda Airport in the afternoon, an immigration officer told Tsuneoka that the ministry issued an order for him to surrender his passport, barring him from leaving Japan.

“It is true that I was denied entry to Oman, but I have obtained a visa from Yemen,” Tsuneoka said. “The government’s forcing of me to surrender my passport and stop me from visiting any country is a violation of freedom of foreign travel guaranteed by the Constitution. This is nothing but an act of obstruction of journalistic activities.”

A Foreign Ministry official told The Asahi Shimbun, “We decline to comment on individual cases.”

Tsuneoka has reported from war-torn regions in the Middle East, and he is also a friend of Jumpei Yasuda, a journalist who was taken hostage in Syria in June 2015 and released in October 2018.

Tsuneoka in mid-January attempted to visit Yemen by way of Oman. He was denied entry to Oman and ordered to return to Japan.

The Foreign Ministry said it issued the requisition to Tsuneoka on grounds that Oman denied his entry.

Japan’s Passport Law allows the government to issue such orders to people deemed “inadmissible” under the laws of the destination country.

Yemen has been ripped apart by a civil war between government forces and anti-government insurgents. More than 10,000 people have been killed in the strife, and millions are at risk of starvation, according to reports.

The Foreign Ministry’s overseas travel safety information lists Yemen in the strictest category, meaning Japanese nationals are urged to immediately leave the country.

In Syria, which also falls under the strictest category, two Japanese, including a journalist, who had been taken hostage by the Islamic State group were beheaded on video in 2015.

Just after that incident, the ministry ordered a journalist planning to visit Syria to surrender his passport.

The journalist filed a lawsuit against the government, demanding a retraction of the seizure of his passport and a full reinstatement of his freedom to travel.

In 2017, the Tokyo District Court ruled that the ministry’s decision was lawful, saying the Constitution does not give freedom of the press precedence under any circumstance.