Three journalists from the national daily Helsingin Sanomat have been charged today for publicising a security secret and attempting to do so. The charges are extremely serious for freedom of expression.
Helsingin Sanomat published an article in December 2017 about the Defense Forces’ Intelligence Research Centre. The Finnish Constitution was being urgently amended at the time, and the article was related to this socially significant issue.
The police have already established that the editorial team did not obtain information by illegal means. According to Helsingin Sanomat, all of the information in the article has been available from public sources, and no crime has been committed.
The UJF considers that the charge endangers the freedom of information in Finland.
Three journalists are now under threat of imprisonment for writing about an issue of social importance
“This is unique in the history of Finland and even internationally highly exceptional in Western democracies. The charge itself is very serious”, said UJF president Hanne Aho.
The indictment refers to “attempted disclosure of a security secret” . This means that a journalist can be threatened with imprisonment even for things that have not been published.
This could mean, for example, that a journalist’s unpublished notes could lead to a conviction.
“There will be no investigation of wrongdoing if even finding things out could lead to prosecution. This would have dramatic consequences for an open society and for monitoring the exercise of power”, said Aho.
Public right to receive information under threat
“Journalists do not write articles for themselves, but for the public. It is precisely the right of ordinary people to know about issues that concern them that is threatened by such cases.”
The prosecutor has pushed for the trial to be carried out behind closed doors, at least in part. The trial must be held publicly and the charges made fully public.
“The prosecutor has so far been very tight-lipped in explaining the grounds for the charges. This is a matter of such international importance for freedom of expression that the trial must be public. This will also allow the journalists to prove their innocence not only to the court but to the public”, explained Aho.
In a Western democracy, journalistic work cannot be a crime.