Finland: EFJ condemned violence against journalists during convoy protest

Finland: EFJ condemned violence against journalists during convoy protest

During the first weekend of February, journalists, police officers, and MPs faced unprecedented threats and intimidation from participants taking part in the Convoy Finland protest in the capital of Helsinki. The EFJ joined its affiliate in Finland, the Finnish Union of Journalists (UJF) in condemning any forms of violence towards journalists and media workers.

While covering the event, at least five reporters and cameramen working for MTV3, Iltalehti, and Yle were threatened by some individuals in the mob in the capitol’s street. Yle’s reporter and cameraman at the scene said they were continuously verbally and physically threatened. One microphone was removed from the hands of the Iltalehti operator. Journalists were physically prevented from moving around as well as accused of “lying for the last two years”. These numerous attacks against several journalists may have been coordinated on Telegram.

The so-called “convoy” protest is a movement inspired from Canada aimed to shut down the capital with a gridlock of trucks and cars. The convoy organizers were far-right supporters and anti-vaccine protesters. They demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s government, a 50% cut in fuel prices, and the ban of all Covid restrictions.

President of the UFJ, Hanne Aho, said that physical attacks on journalists are very uncommon in Finland: “This is probably the first time that several media representatives are harassed at the same time. Two-thirds of Finnish journalists are, however, subjects of online harassment. So this time, in a way, this harassment turned physical.”

This statement by EFJ is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

MFRR EFJ part of MFRR Logos_1200px
HQ of Helsingin Sanomat Library

Finland: EFJ reacts to three journalists being accused of…

Finland: three journalists face jail term for allegedly “disclosing state secrets”

Three journalists from Finland’s largest national daily Helsingin Sanomat were charged on 29 October 2021 with “attempted disclosure of a security secret” and face jail term. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joined its affiliates in Finland, the Finnish Journalists’ Union (UJF), in expressing solidarity with the journalists and condemning Finland’s deputy prosecutor general’s decision to prosecute them.

Laura HalminenTuomo Pietiläinen and Kalle Silfverberg face four months to four years in prison for publishing in December 2017 an article about the Finnish Defence Intelligence Agency (VKoeL), at a time when a constitutional change gave the Finnish security services increased surveillance powers.

Following publication of the story, authorities opened an investigation into the newspaper for allegedly disclosing “state secrets” that would endanger national security. On 17 December 2017, police raided the apartment of Laura Halminen, seizing her computer as well as flash drives.

Pre-trial investigation found out that the editorial team did not obtain information through illegal means. According to Helsingin Sanomat, all information made public was available in public sources.

Following a four-year investigation, Finland’s prosecutor decided to prosecute three of the five journalists involved and to hold most of the trial – whose date is not yet known – behind closed doors.

In an editorial, Helsingin Sanomat editor-in-chief Kaius Niemi warned that the threat of imprisonment for investigative journalists is “conducive to creating fear and self-censorship” throughout the Finnish media field.

“This is unique in the history of Finland and even highly exceptional in Western democracies,” said UJF president Hanne Aho. “The prosecutor has so far been very tight-lipped in explaining the grounds for the charges. This is a matter of such international importance for freedom of expression that the trial must be public. This will also allow the journalists to prove their innocence not only to the court but to the public”, added Aho.

EFJ President Mogens Blicher Bjerregard said: “Journalists should be rewarded, not prosecuted, for doing investigative journalism for citizens, in the public interest. It is shocking to see now that Finland attacks press freedom and thereby sends a wrong signal to all Finnish journalists doing investigation.”


Finland: IPI criticizes Finland for charging three journalists with…

Finland: IPI criticizes Finland for charging three journalists with ‘disclosing state secrets’

IPI strongly criticizes decision to prosecute Helsingin Sanomat journalists following four-year investigation

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, publishers, and leading journalists for press freedom, today expressed grave alarm over the decision by Finland’s deputy prosecutor general to charge three Helsingin Sanomat journalists with disclosing state secrets.

Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s leading daily newspaper, started to publish a series of articles beginning on December 16, 2017, on plans – which required a constitutional amendment – to give Finland’s security services greater powers to carry out surveillance and covert operations domestically and abroad. The articles shed light in particular on the operations of the Finnish Defence Intelligence Agency (VKoeL).

Following publication of the story, authorities opened an investigation into the newspaper for allegedly divulging “state secrets”. Five Helsingin Sanomat employees were named as suspects in the investigation, including Editor-in-Chief Kaius Niemi. On December 17, 2017, police raided the apartment of journalist Laura Halminen, seizing her computer as well as flash drives.

Today, on October 29, 2021, nearly four years after the publication of the story, prosecutors announced charges for disclosure and attempted disclosure of state secrets against Halminen and journalist Tuomo Pietiläinen as well as Kalle Silfverberg, who was head of Helsingin Sanomat’s political news department at the time. Niemi as well as managing editor Esa Mäkinen were not charged. The three charged journalists face four months to four years in prison.

Helsingin Sanomat has said that the articles did not contain any state secrets and emphasized that all information that was published in the story was available in public sources. It has also underscored that the story was in the public interest. Finnish news reports said that investigators previously determined that the newspaper had not acquired the information illegally. Authorities opened a separate investigation into the source of the leak.

IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi expressed dismay over the decision to file charges.

“IPI is deeply alarmed by today’s decision, which poses a serious threat to the ability of journalists in Finland to work freely”, Trionfi said. “It is unacceptable and absurd that journalists in a European democracy like Finland are facing imprisonment for doing their job and reporting on an issue of massive public interest, which the discussion about the activities and powers of Finland’s security agencies undoubtedly was.

“This investigation itself – which has dragged on for years – had already cast a shadow over Finnish reporting on national security issues. These charges will now worsen this chilling effect, jeoparadizing the public’s right to be informed on issues of tremendous importance to society. IPI calls on Finnish authorities to swiftly drop all charges against the journalists in this case, and offer reassurance that upholding press freedom remains a priority in Finland.”

Khadija Patel, the chair of IPI’s global Executive Board, also criticized the move by prosecutors.

“This case undermines Finland’s reputation as a global safe haven for press freedom. At a moment in which governments around the world are ramping up pressure on independent media, to see a country like Finland take steps to punish journalists for public-interest reporting is disturbing and disheartening. Unfortunately, cases like this can inadvertently give cover to authoritarian states, and they undermine the ability of Finland and other democratic countries to defend independent journalism across the globe.”

Helsingin Sanomat has gained widespread recognition as a leading voice in the defence of independent journalism. During the 2018 summit in Helsinki between former U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the newspaper published ads across the city with messages in support of press freedom. It has also launched initiatives to support media working in restricted environments, such as the Hungarian online news website Telex.