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A handout photo showing police officers use pepper spray in an attempt to break up a group of protesters in downtown Helsinki on Saturday, 3 October. (Handout – Elokapina)

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OFFICERS at Helsinki Police Department resorted to what the protesters have described as pepper spray to break up a protest organised by Elokapina on Kaisaniemenkatu in Helsinki on Saturday.

The incident took place after a group of protesters calling for more resolute measures against the climate emergency moved, in response to an order to disperse, to the well trafficked road in an apparent attempt to cause a traffic obstruction.

Video footage of the incident suggests that the protesters posed no threat to the police officers supervising the protest.

“The protest was completely non-violent and caused no traffic congestions. Within 10 minutes of the protest spreading out, police resorted to pepper spray and sprayed protesters several times, causing severe reactions in roughly a dozen people. Police also prevented some of the sprayed people from rinsing their face with water,” reads a press release from Elokapina.

Helsinki Police Department viewed that the use of force was justified to break up a crowd that was causing a traffic obstruction.

“There was a substantial traffic obstruction and, in light of how long the situation had continued, police resorted to the most lenient forcible measure at its disposal to disperse the crowd. It was spray in this case,” it recounted on Twitter.

The National Police Board has asked the police department to provide a report on the course of events and the actions taken by police officers, reports Helsingin Sanomat.

“Hundreds of demonstrations a year are organised in Helsinki. Ninety-nine per cent of them go alright without any issues. I’m frankly annoyed that things didn’t go well in this particular case,” commented Sanna Heikinheimo, a deputy national police commissioner at the National Police Board.

Minister of the Interior Maria Ohisalo (Greens) on Sunday revealed that a preliminary account of the sequence of events has been submitted to the Ministry of the Interior.

“Use of force must always be the last resort, and it must always be well justified. These actions must be evaluated and the guidelines updated, if necessary. It would also be good to always disclose the justification for use of force. The actions of police are ultimately monitored by the parliamentary ombudsman,” she said.

A number of legal experts have estimated tentatively that the officers may have used excessive force to break up the protest.

“The events should naturally be examined, but as a whole rather than based on a 17-second video,” reminded Sakari Melander, a professor of criminal law at the University of Helsinki. “The demonstration started at 1pm and ended at 7pm. It obstructed traffic for several hours, because people on the driveway refused to leave despite the encouragement and orders of police.”

Kimmo Nuotio, a professor of criminal law at the University of Helsinki, viewed that the actions of police to disperse the protest raise questions, especially regarding the effort to foster public trust in the police.

“It doesn’t look good. Use of force must be based on careful discretion and situational consideration. My second point: the police is working hard to win the trust of the people. Building it takes time, but it can be lost in a moment. Excesses come at different costs. You can’t afford to jeopardise that trust,” he stated.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that authorities should refrain from use of force as long as protesters remain non-violent, reminded Miikka Vuorela, a doctoral student of criminology at the University of Helsinki.

“The court of law ruled that dispersing a protest with pepper spray constituted a human rights violation. Whether or not forcible measures were proportionate is evaluated on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Source: Uusi Suomi

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