Police disperse pro and anti-immigrant protesters encamped in downtown Helsinki

Peaceful Assembly

Issues related to asylum and migration continue to fuel protests and counter-demonstrations in Finland. In May and June 2017, officials in Helsinki dismantled makeshift protest camps near the Central Railway Station. This decision was justified by the need to prepare for summer events and to contain a "developing security situation" in the city. Police, however, admitted that protesters had not broken any laws. This move by the authorities also meant that encampments by anti-immigration groups, such as 'Finland First' (Suomi Ensin), were also removed.

The pro-immigrant groups under the campaign 'Right to Live' encamped at the railway station responded to the dispersal of their protest with a march through Helsinki. The video below captures the march on 30th June. 

Despite the dispersal of these protest camps, pro-immigration demonstrations have continued, with groups sometimes successfully opposing the deportation of refugees. On 26th June 2017, police abandoned an attempt to deport a woman to Iraq after protesters gathered at the airport calling on the authorities to cancel her deportation. A passenger on the plane also objected to her deportation, forcing the captain to remove her from the flight. A few weeks earlier on 4th June 2017, approximately 200 activists protested at the airport in Helsinki to oppose the return of refugees via flights to Kabul. Police officers arrested two protesters, allegedly because they failed to comply with an order to leave the terminal building.

In May, the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman requested an investigation by the office of the Prosecutor General into whether or not some protesters at a demonstration by 'Finland First' near Vesala School in Helsinki made comments that could constitute ethnic agitation, defamation or any other offence. Helsinki police stated that the demonstrators had gathered outside the school to protest a morning assembly, during which the students and staff were educated about the Muslim practice of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.

On 1st July, 2017, 35,000 people took part in this year's Helsinki Pride events on 1st July. The event was organised by HeSeta as "a celebration of gender and sexual minorities" and "Finland’s largest culture and human rights event".

Expression

An external review of the Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle) published in May 2017 found that the public broadcaster operates independently, but could improve its journalistic and editorial practices. The review was done following alleged attempts in 2016 by Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä to influence reporting on a company owned by members of his family. The review also concluded that attempts to safeguard Yle's funding could have influenced reporting which was overly cautious and favourable to those in positions of power. President of the Union of Journalists in Finland (UJF) Hanne Aho welcomed the report, saying:

"It should be remembered that Yle is a company with hundreds of highly skilled programme makers. The debate on whether the management of Yle has prevented the publication of information about leading politicians or acted under pressure from them concerns only a small number of them. Yet the shadow falls on everyone".

The UJF also recently gave written submissions in response to the government's efforts to revise laws dealing with national security and terrorism, spying by foreign states and disruptions to critical infrastructure. The UJF is particularly concerned that current drafts of these laws would undermine the protection for journalists' sources, even though the laws themselves seek to address those concerns. To this end, the UJF stated that "under the current proposals, the new legislation could see information exposing journalistic sources remaining in the possession of the authorities, despite the fact that it would in theory be deleted". The statement goes on to say that sweeping powers to collect online data could mean that information about journalistic sources could unwittingly end up in the hands of the authorities.

In a positive move in early June 2017, Finland's best-known internet police officer Marko "Fobba" Forss was removed from his position. The head of a police anti-hate speech task force, Forss was fired following his admission that as moderator, he was indeed aware of racist slurs posted in a closed police Facebook group. The problem of harmful speech was highlighted in Finland in late May 2017 when a young German "survivalist" left the country following a torrent of online abuse from Finns objecting to her project.