The Supreme Court’s decision to acquit journalist and author Johanna Vehkoo of defamation charges against Oulu politician Junes Lokka is important and reassuring for freedom of expression, said UJF President Hanne Aho following the judgement, 11 January.
The ruling overturns those of lower courts that imposed and upheld Vehkoo’s conviction over a private Facebook post that Junes alleged defamed him. Vehkoo took the matter to the Supreme Court, which has now ruled in her favour.
Aho said that the decision will force the police, prosecutors and lower courts to better identify harassment claims.
“The judicial system must learn to recognise when it is being used as a tool of pressure or bullying.”
The decision, which has spotlighted the system’s failings, would not have come about without Vehkoo’s perseverance in pressing ahead with her case.
“Johanna Vehkoo has done a great service both to Finnish journalists and to society as a whole,” said Aho.
The Supreme Court issued its decision on Johanna Vehkoo’s appeal against her conviction for defamation of Oulu politician Junes Loka.
In April 2019, the Oulu District Court fined Vehkoo for calling Lokka a Nazi clown and a racist in a Facebook post. The case was also heard by the Rovaniemi Court of Appeal, which upheld the conviction.
But now the Supreme Court has overturned Vehko’s conviction. According to the court, the Facebook post was a criticism of Loka’s conduct in politics or a comparable public activity and concerned a matter of public interest.
Aho said that the Supreme Court was the only court to assess the Facebook post as a whole and in context. She said that the police, the prosecution and the lower courts failed to do this.
“The harassment and bullying of journalists and making their work more difficult by urging investigation requests is an international phenomenon that has been brought to Finland. There is a risk that journalists’ work will be disrupted by using the judiciary as a vehicle for harassment.”
The UJF President said that the cost of more than five years of legal proceedings has been totally disproportionate in human terms.
“It has highlighted in a harsh way how difficult it can be for an individual being targeted for their work. This should never happen again.”