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Court of Appeal rules in favour of journalist victim of hate speech

The Helsinki Court of Appeal has found a man guilty for illegally threatening journalist Linda Pelkonen  in a spate of harassing phone calls in 2015. The Helsinki District Court had earlier dismissed the charges citing lack of evidence.

The accused had claimed that someone else had made the calls to the journalist from his phone. But the Court of Appeal rejected his version and ruled, 25 January, that the owner of the phone and the caller were one and the same.

The man will have to pay a 30-day day fine, €800 compensation to Pelkonen, and €2 800 court costs. The ruling is not final and it remains to be seen if the case will go to the High Court.

Pelkonen, a journalist for the paper Uusi Suomi, was the target of a deluge of hate speech and online abuse following the publication of a post on the anti-immigrant website, MV-lehti, attacking her for her reporting of a rape case. Her article had revealed that in investigating the case, the police had, unusually, identified the suspect’s ethnic identity.

The Court of Appeal heard following the post on the MV-lehti site, Pelkonen started getting calls threatening her with rape. As a result, she started avoiding public spaces and was afraid to go outdoors.

Initially, the regional prosecutor decided not to pursue the case, arguing that journalists should be able to withstand more public criticism than other individuals. But this position was later overruled by the prosecutor general, who argued that those accused of Pelkonen’s persecution should face prosecution.

One of the accused had the charges against him dismissed by the District Court, and so prosecutors took the case to the Court of Appeal.

The UJF has supported Pelkonen throughout her ordeal. Her case and a number of others have been seen as important measures of how far the state is ready to uphold freedom of the press and the rights of journalists to carry out their work without fear of harassment or persecution.

“Journalists’ freedom of expression is an extremely important matter, and any efforts to limit it are being taken seriously,” said Pelkonen following the Court of Appeal ruling.