A lawmaker recently hurled a cruel remark at a private citizen who was testifying on the dangers of secondhand smoke before a Diet committee.

We feel flabbergasted and enraged by his act of jeering, which disgraced the bastion of free speech, of which he is a part.

Yoichi Anami, a Lower House member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, heckled a lung cancer patient who was speaking at the chamber’s Committee on Health, Labor and Welfare on June 15 as an unsworn witness.

The committee was deliberating a proposal to amend the Health Promotion Law to include measures against passive smoking.

“Stop wasting my time!” said the lawmaker, who represents the Oita No. 1 constituency.

That came on the heels of another LDP Lower House member, who apologized after he heckled a fellow lawmaker during an intraparty meeting in May last year.

“(Cancer patients) don’t need to work,” Hideo Onishi said in jeering the colleague who was calling for measures.

The draft amendment bill would ban smoking “in principle” in the interiors of restaurants and bars, although provisions on exceptions would allow smoking in 55 percent of existing establishments.

The proposal has been pushed back significantly from an initial draft because of opposition from within the LDP.

Anami’s heckling likely reflected objections that continue to run deep within the party.

Anami released a written apology in response to a rise in criticism. He said he had no intention to obstruct the witness’s remarks and only “mumbled out of the feeling that smokers should not be discriminated against needlessly.”

That could only be called a strained excuse. Anami jeered the witness just as the latter was showing consideration by saying, “I understand very well the plight of smokers who complain there is nowhere for them to smoke.”

Anami sits on the board of the operator of a restaurant chain, which would be covered by regulations on smoking. A remark that verges on intimidation of someone who was calling for more stringent measures should by no means be dismissed as “mumbling.”

The witness, who said he has never smoked himself but has had stage 4 lung cancer because of exposure to secondhand smoke, remained composed as he pointed out problems of the draft bill that he wants to see fixed.

It is questionable if Anami, who appears to have no sincerity or consideration toward somebody who was standing in front of him, is even fit to be a lawmaker.

Anami was given a strong verbal warning by Shuichi Takatori, chairman of the Lower House health committee from the LDP. The warning, however, could have been too lenient a response to an act of insulting a witness, which disgraced the dignity of the Diet.

The LDP should take the initiative and consider giving him rigorous punishment within the party.

Under the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the prime minister himself, Finance Minister Taro Aso and other senior officials have frequently made irregular remarks from their seats during Diet debate.

An executive secretary to the prime minister, whose job is to remain behind the scenes, once went so far as jeering at an opposition party leader who was asking questions.

The attitude of the administration’s officials, who won’t listen to objections and shoot back at criticisms with outright animosity, is likely increasing the degradation of Diet debate.

We should not forget that we, members of the public, are being slighted as well.

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 23