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Smash Asem verdict – victory for the state, defeat for freedom of expression

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Finland did not violate a photographer’s freedom of expression.

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Finland did not violate the freedom of expression of photographer Markus Pentikäinen. This is the disappointing outcome to the nine-year legal battle and a setback both for Mr Pentikäinen and freedom of speech.

Mr Pentikäinen, a photographer for the Finnish current affairs magazine Suomen Kuvalehti was taking photographs at the 2006 Smash Asem demonstration in Helsinki when he was arrested for disobeying police orders to leave the scene. His intention was to photograph the final stages of the protest and the police’s use of force. He was held unlawfully in police cells for over 18 hours.

Jussi Salokangas, a lawyer at the Union of Journalists in Finland, who assisted Mr Pentikäinen throughout the case said: “It’s a sad development that the European Court of Human Rights has taken this position. The issue sets a legal precedent of crucial importance for all of Europe affecting the work of journalists, including in crisis areas. It is most likely that the Finnish Foreign Ministry’s inaccurate statements concerning the case influenced the ECHR’s decision.

“A Foreign Ministry representative claimed in court that the police were unaware that Mr Pentikäinen was a journalist when they arrested him. The arresting officer had stated that he identified Mr Pentikäinen from his press card. The Foreign Ministry representative also claimed that there was a space set aside for photographers at the site of the protest – though none of the representatives of the media had any knowledge of this.”

Mr Pentikäinen was subsequently prosecuted and found guilty of imputed criminal liability. The Court of Appeal did not alter this judgement and the Supreme Court declined to review the case.

The ECHR ruled in 2014 that Mr Pentikäinen’s freedom of speech had not been violated. The case then went to the Grand Chamber, which is made up of 17 judges drawn from court’s member states, a highly unusual step. The Grand Chamber has never previously dealt with cases concerning freedom of expression in Finland.

“Authorities should now draw up more precise guidelines on how the freedom of expression of journalists is to be safeguarded during protests and demonstrations,” said Salokangas. “It’s our job to act as a public watchdog on power.”

 

 

Contact:

Jussi Salokangas, +358 50 377 6211 / jussi.salokangas(at)journalistiliitto.fi

Markus Pentikäinen, +358 50 350 5313 / markus.pentikainen(at)otavamedia.fi