The Yamagata District Court has sentenced a 66-year-old man to eight years in prison for setting the house of Liberal Democratic lawmaker Koichi Kato on fire in August 2006. Circumstances show that it was a clear attempt to suppress opinion by means of violence.

The ruling is reasonable since the criminal’s act undermined an important democratic principle. The presiding judge correctly said the attack demonstrated blatant defiance against democracy and law-based order that guarantee freedom of speech.

According to the ruling, the 66-year-old man, a member of a Tokyo-based rightist group, read an interview article in a magazine featuring Mr. Kato, and concluded that the veteran LDP politician was opposed to then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine, Japan’s war shrine.

On Aug. 15, 2006, the same day that Mr. Koizumi made a Yasukuni visit, the man poured gasoline through Mr. Kato’s house in Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture, and set fire to it with a lighter. Although Mr. Kato’s mother was living there, she happened to be out at the time.

The rightist first planned to attack Mr. Kakutaro Kitashiro, then head of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Keizai Doyukai), who opposed Mr. Koizumi’s Yasukuni visits. But because the security around Mr. Kitashiro looked tight, the man changed his target to Mr. Kato, who had a similar opinion. This shows that the crime was aimed not at a person, per se, but at a particular way of thought. In the trial, the defense counsel said the purpose of the defendant’s act was to “defend his motherland.” This is a far-fetched argument.

Presiding Judge Takeshi Kaneko pointed to the central nature of the crime. He said the defendant was ready to commit murder, if necessary, to suppress the opinion or behavior of a person whose view was different from his. The presiding judge characterized the defendant’s belief as “firm and dangerous.”

Citizens should not tolerate violence aimed at suppressing speech. Many no doubt recall that political terror in the late 1920s and early 1930s was a harbinger of fascism and militarism.

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