Pro-Kremlin activists on trial in Finland for harassing reporter
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) hails the trial of two pro-Kremlin activists in Helsinki on charges of harassing and defaming Jessikka Aro, an investigative reporter who has been researching the activities of Kremlin trolls and their attempts to manipulate Finnish public opinion since 2014.
[Update 18.10.2018] A court sentenced Ilja Janitskin today to 22 months in prison and gave Johan Bäckman a 12-month suspended prison sentence. The two men, who subjected Jessikka Aro to cyber-harassment, were also ordered to pay 90,000 euros in damages. RSF welcome the court’s decision, which sends a clear message to those who harass journalists online.
For the past four years, Jessikka Aro has been insulted, defamed and parodied in videos in major hate and smear campaigns on social networks with the aim of silencing her investigative reporting on pro-Kremlin trolls' attempts to influence the Finnish public opinion.
For the first time this week, two of the people responsible for these online campaigns are being tried on criminal charges of stalking, aggravated defamation and “encouragement to aggravated defamation.”
One is Ilja Janitskin, the founder of MV Lehti, a website known for attacking critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He is facing a possible 14-month prison sentence for posting countless memes and fake stories attacking Aro, as well as producing other hate content designed to discredit her in various ways including portraying her as a drug dealer.
The other is Johan Bäckman, another Putin fan linked to pro-Kremlin groups who has repeatedly smeared and defamed Aro on Twitter and Facebook. Claiming to be a human rights defender, he has accused her of being a “well-known assistant of American and Baltic special services” and of writing her stories under the influence of drugs. The prosecution is asking the court to give him an eight-month sentence.
“We welcome this trial, which is all the more emblematic because many reporters continue to be the target of troll armies seeking to discourage or even silence the journalists who cover them,” RSF said. “As the two suspects have been clearly identified, we count on the Finnish judicial system to ensure that this is an exemplary trial and that it sends a clear message to those who harass journalists online.”
Aro’s lawyer Martina Kronström told RSF she hoped that the sentences passed by the court would serve to “dissuade all those who might be tempted to carry out this kind of online hate campaign.”
Finland is ranked 4th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index. However this European Union member state, which shares 1,340 km of border with Russia, has a very active network of pro-Putin trolls and journalists are often harassed online.