On Aug. 15, the 61st anniversary of the end of World War II — the day when Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi paid homage to the war dead at Yasukuni Shrine — the house of the mother of former Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Koichi Kato burned down. The veteran politician is a known critic of Mr. Koizumi’s repeated visits to Japan’s war shrine.

A rightist group member, with severe abdominal wounds and burns to his face, was found on the premises of the gutted house in Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture. He was not wearing shoes. A knife with a 26-cm blade and two kerosene cans were discovered amid the debris.

This man apparently set fire to the house, tried to kill himself in hara-kiri fashion, then came out of the house when it got too hot. It would not be far-fetched to regard his act as retaliation against Mr. Kato for his criticism of Mr. Koizumi’s Yasukuni visits — a form of terrorism to silence people who harbor different opinions.

On the day Mr. Koizumi made the Yasukuni visit, Mr. Kato repeated his criticism of the prime minister in a news conference inside the Diet Building. He said Mr. Koizumi “had destroyed Japan’s diplomacy toward Asia” and that neighboring countries will “scrutinize how his successor will break the deadlock in Japan’s relations with China and South Korea.”

After hearing of the fire at his mother’s house, Mr. Kato said, “It saddens me and it cannot be forgiven. But I am a politician, and I will continue to speak up for what I believe is correct.”

Mr. Kato’s 97-year-old mother happened to be away from home when the fire started. Mr. Kato’s house, which is on the same premises, was not damaged. “I feel intense anger toward the person who endangered my mother’s life and deprived me of precious memories.” Any citizen can understand his anger.

Free speech must be assured if society is to develop in a healthy way. Politicians and citizens must stand up against any move aimed at suppressing another’s opinions by means of violence — regardless of whether it is physical or psychological.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.