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Journalist subject to hate speech glad of union’s support for legal struggle

“It would have been a hundred times harder if the union hadn’t supported me”, says journalist Linda Pelkonen, who was the target of a wave of online harassment in 2015.

Pelkonen turned to the courts due to the online abuse and threats she received in late 2015, following an article she wrote for the online news site Uusi Suomi. The article dealt with the police handling of a rape case involving a 14 year-old girl, who’s alleged attacker was a Finnish citizen of immigrant background. Pelkonen drew attention in her article to the fact that the police report had identified the suspect’s ethnic identity, which was unusual procedure.

She was then subject to a storm of attacks online, apparently prompted by a post on the anti-immigrant website MV Lehti smearing her. Her private phone number was posted on the site’s comment section, after which she received a torrent of threats and abuse by text message.

Initially the regional prosecutor declined to press charges in the case, saying that journalists need to withstand more public criticism than other individuals. The UJF and Pelkonen then issued a complaint to the officer of the prosecutor, arguing that the decision would set a dangerous precedent.

The prosecutor general then decided to take up the case, which resulted in the prosecution of three men in May 2017. In February this year the Helsinki District Court one of the men was found guilty of defamation of character and issued with a fine. The charges against the second man failed, and the case is being taken to the Court of Appeal. The case against the third accused is being heard this month.

Pelkonen says that the help she received from the union has been crucially important for her. The UJF has backed her from the outset, when she filed a complaint with the prosecutor general.

“It’s sometimes been really tough, but it would have been a hundred times harder if the union hadn’t supported me.  I don’t know if I could have seen it through to the end without the union’s help.”

Pelkonen is particularly grateful that the union hired a good lawyer, Matti Rautakorpi. “It was heart warming to hear his and also the prosecutor’s [Juha-Mikko Hämäläinen] testimony in court. They completely understood the journalists’ point of view in the matter.  This is much bigger thing than threats to a private individual.”