Tensions over immigration rise in wake of terror attack
On 18th August, a Moroccan teenager stabbed two women to death and injured eight other people in the Finnish city of Turku. Following the attack, the government announced that it would review Finland's terrorism-related legislation and propose changes to tighten restrictions on undocumented people and on dual citizens guilty of terror offences. Simon Elo, leader of the Blue Reform parliamentary group said:
"We're changing the Aliens Act and the Nationality Act so that we can in the future, based on national security, cancel residence permits, impose entry bans, rescind citizenship or refugee status".
The Minister of European Affairs also confirmed that the government will ensure that police have all the necessary regulations to use force in violent situations.
Over two weeks later, on 7th September, controversy erupted when a representative of the nationalist Finns Party (formerly True Finns) vetoed anti-racism language in a cross-party statement designed to calm heated rhetoric in the debate over security and immigration following the attacks in Turku. The Finns Party representative Laura Huhtasaari said that "this joint statement was made so that every party could commit to it and that's why it was vague. To me, hate speech means the hate directed at western countries at this moment". Following these statements, Huhtasaari was reprimanded by Prime Minister Juha Sipilä for criticising Muslim immigration and Islamic values.
On 4th September 2017, Police in Jyväskylä, central Finland, encountered a crowd of protesters as they tried to defend an Afghan family against deportation. Dozens of demonstrators gathered outside an asylum reception centre, where the family was staying, in an attempt to prevent their deportation.
Several hours after the police's initial arrival, several police units announced that they would carry out the family's removal from the centre at around 6:00pm. Upon being surrounded by a human chain of people who temporarily foiled the deportation attempt, police reportedly responded with pepper spray after being attacked by some of the demonstrators.
The following day, police stated that they had called in reinforcement units for safety reasons in order to avoid personal and material damage as much as they could. They also confirmed that two protesters had been taken into custody - one for disobeying an official and another for disorderly conduct.
Those helping asylum seekers and undocumented migrants have come under greater scrutiny recently in Finland, with the Prime Minister defending his government's plans to criminalise assistance to undocumented people who choose to stay in the country.
In a separate development two days before the deportation protest, on 2nd September around a thousand people demonstrated against Finland's centre-right government. The protesters sought to draw attention to policies which they oppose and claim that they favour the rich and disadvantage pensioners and unemployed people. Protesters conducted a peaceful procession from different points in Helsinki to the Parliament.
The Finnish Ministry of Justice, together with various civil society organisations (CSOs), has launched a joint Discrimination Free Campaign. This is an information campaign against all forms of discrimination, bullying and harassment and further enables organisations and communities to express their commitment to the principle of non-discrimination.
— FinlandToday (@FinlandToday) August 10, 2017
As part of the campaign, Finnish stadiums are declared free of discrimination, meaning that stadiums welcome everybody regardless of ethnic background, age, fitness or sexual orientation. The stadiums challenge the audience and the players to create an atmosphere of good sportsmanship and to intervene in discriminatory situations. The campaign has already engaged 1,000 organisations from all over Finland declaring themselves free of discrimination.
The Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture has launched the ‘I say NO to hate speech’ campaign, which focuses mainly on denouncing and preventing any kind of harmful speech. Finland's Minister of Education stated that:
“Respect for other people, acting together with different people and empathy – these are skills that can be learned. Therefore, it is important that this theme is discussed at schools, in other educational institutions and in connection with leisure activities”.
In 2014, a public art exhibition featuring a naked 83-year-old woman in a glass case was censored by Helsinki police. Before the art event could take place, Helsinki police - citing public morality - told the producers of the installation that the woman needed to be covered up. Three years later, in 2017, Finland's Supreme Administrative Court ruled that the Helsinki police had violated the law. The court said that the police do not have the right to prevent an event from taking place in advance, emphasising that freedom of expression can be limited only under exceptional circumstances.