Berlin, November 3, 2021 – Finnish authorities should drop all criminal charges filed against three journalists working for the daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, and ensure that members of the press can cover sensitive issues without facing government retaliation, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On October 29, Finnish prosecutors announced that three Helsingin Sanomat journalists had been criminally charged with disclosing and attempting to disclose state secrets, according to a press release by the national prosecutor’s office, a report by Helsingin Sanomat, and the newspaper’s managing editor, Esa Mäkinen, who communicated with CPJ via email. The three have denied any guilt, according to that press release.
The charges stem from a December 16, 2017, article about the activities of the Finnish Intelligence Research Center, a unit conducting military intelligence operations, as well as a planned series of articles covering the center that ultimately were not published, the indictment says.
According to the Finnish national broadcaster Yle, authorities charged the two reporters who published the December 16 story, Laura Halminen and Tuomo Pietiläinen, as well as editor Kalle Silfverberg, who led the paper’s political news department at the time.
Mäkinen told CPJ that no trial date has been set, and if found guilty, the journalists face up to four years in prison.
“Finnish authorities must immediately drop all charges against journalists at Helsingin Sanomat, who were simply doing their jobs by covering matters of national importance,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “It is unacceptable that investigative journalists in an E.U. country could face prison sentences for their work. Prosecuting these journalists will have a chilling effect on national security reporting in Finland.”
Authorities previously raided Halminen’s home on December 17, 2017, in relation to the article published the previous day, as CPJ documented at the time.
The Yle report stated that authorities also investigated the paper’s editor-in-chief Kaius Niemi and managing editor Esa Mäkinen, but did not charge them with any crime. It said authorities are also investigating military intelligence officials for allegedly leaking classified information to the newspaper.
In an October 29 press release, Helsingin Sanomat stood by its reporting, saying the journalists did not disclose state secrets and it was in the public interest to publish the 2017 article.
The statement said that article “provided background information on this branch of intelligence less known to the public” at a time when politicians were debating whether to expand intelligence organizations’ powers.
Niemi was quoted in Helsingin Sanomat as saying that the indictment’s inclusion of the unpublished articles that had been planned to follow the December 16 report constituted “pre-censorship.”
Deputy Prosecutor General Jukka Rappe was quoted in that Helsingin Sanomat article as saying that the trial, which is likely to be held behind closed doors due to the nature of the case, will examine whether the reporting exposed wrongdoing by authorities, what kind of information was public at the time, and which parts of the reporting may have been prohibited under national security laws, among other considerations.
CPJ emailed the prosecutor’s office for comment, but did not immediately receive any reply.