Violent Assaults on Free Speech Must Not Be Tolerated

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was targeted while campaigning for a Liberal Democratic Party candidate. It was just in July last year when former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot dead. Committing a brutal act to suppress free speech using violence is absolutely unacceptable.

Immediately before Kishida was about to give a speech at a fishing port in Wakayama City, an incident occurred in which an explosive that appeared to be made of metal was thrown. He was to deliver a speech in support of the candidate running in the by-election for the House of Representatives in Wakayama Constituency No. 1.

The prime minister and the roughly 200 people in the audience were not injured, but a police officer was wounded. The Wakayama prefectural police arrested Ryuji Kimura, 24, of Kawanishi, Hyogo Prefecture, at the scene on suspicion of forcible obstruction of business.

Was he trying to disrupt the election? Or did he intend to harm the prime minister? Whatever his motive may be, attempting to accomplish his goal through violence is a heinous act.

It comes as a great shock that the incumbent prime minister and a former prime minister were attacked one after another in Japan, a country that has had a reputation for its high level of public safety. This is a situation in which Japan could lose its credibility in the international community, thus the police authorities must take it very seriously.

Kishida was about to give a speech in front of the audience after tasting seafood in the area. Kimura is suspected of slipping into the crowd and carrying out the crime.

How did he bring the explosive to the site? Were the police not aware of his suspicious manner? Clarifying the circumstances and background of the incident is an urgent task.

In response to the attack on Abe, the police decided to significantly increase the number of security guards and introduced a system whereby the National Police Agency checks protection plans drafted by the prefectural police forces and the Metropolitan Police Department. Was the protection plan prepared this time adequate? An in-depth verification will be necessary.

Campaigns for five by-elections to fill vacant seats in the lower house and the House of Councillors, including one in Wakayama Constituency No. 1, as well as the second half of the unified local elections will continue until Sunday when voting and ballot counting take place. In addition, the Group of Seven summit is scheduled to be held in Hiroshima from May 19.

Police forces nationwide must realize that Japan’s prestige is at stake and take all possible measures to provide security. The NPA should be responsible for the protection plan in each area across the country.

The attacks on Abe and Kishida both occurred in places where large numbers of unspecified people gathered. It is only natural that each party and politician wants to promote their policies and views directly to the voters.

However, in an age when anyone can access online information about guns and explosives and manufacture them, the danger of terrorist attacks occurring has increased. Abe was shot with a homemade gun by a man hidden in the audience.

Henceforth, it may also be important for political parties and politicians to consult closely with the police when deciding where to deliver speeches to check whether it is easy to provide security at the location.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 16, 2023)