01/27/2023 | Press release | Archived content
Two journalists of the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper were found guilty of having revealed state secrets in the country ranked fifth in the World Press Freedom Index. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) deeply regrets the conviction which risks further strengthening the self-censorship effect on journalists covering national security issues.
In a trial unprecedented in Finland's post-war history, the Helsinki District Court convicted, on 27 January, two journalists for "revealing state secrets". Tuomo Pietiläinen, one of the two authors of the articleon a military intelligence center published by the daily Helsingin Sanomatin December 2017, was convicted to a 4,200-euro fine. The second author, Laura Halminen, was also found guilty, but the court did not sanction her considering her "clearly smaller role" in the affair. The third indicted journalist who had edited the article, Kalle Silfverberg, was acquitted of the charge of revealing state secrets, as he was "not deemed to have participated" in the revelations.
All three journalists of the biggest Finnish newspaper were acquitted of the curious charges of "intending to reveal" and "helping to reveal" confidential information about the army. Pending appeal, the verdict is not legally binding.
The verdict is a dangerous precedent for press freedom in Finland and internationally. If a court in a country ranked on the top of the World Press Freedom Index, prosecutes journalists for reporting on national security issues, what message does it send to the countries ranked lower? We will continue following the Helsingin Sanomat case, decisive for press freedom in Europe and beyond, and we call on journalists internationally to show solidarity with their Finnish colleagues.
We welcome the acquittal of Kalle Silfverberg. Yet, we deeply regret the conviction of the two Helsingin Sanomatjournalists and the fine imposed on Tuomo Pietiläinen. It is almost certain that the chilling effect on Finnish journalists sparked by the Helsingin Sanomatproceedings will be further strengthened. If the reporters decide to appeal, they must be acquitted of all charges.
In the landmark case, the Helsinki District Court rejected the main arguments of the defense. It refused the journalists' claim that the information in their article was publicly accessible at the time. It also rejected the claim the publication was made in public interest, because amendments giving more powers to intelligence agencies were being discussed at the time.
Although the court said "many parts [of the article]could not be considered totally harmless," it acknowledged that the revelations had "not anymore jeopardized Finland's external security" as the army claimed. The court decided not to impose suspended prison sentences, requested by the prosecutor, "taking into account the length of the legal process and the fact that it has raised unusual publicity." Prison sentences were qualified by the court as "exceptional" in the freedom of expression cases.
Like the five-year criminal proceedings, the verdict is marked by several features which are troubling from the press freedom perspective. The court convicted the authors of the article, although they did not ultimately decide about its publication. It considered them responsible, because they "deliberately" published state secrets, the nature of which they should have known "as experienced journalists". Oddly enough, the court also ordered the removal of the article in question from Helsingin Sanomatafter it had been online for five years.
Finland is ranked fifth out of 180 countries in RSF's 2022 World Press Freedom Index.