Police officers put a demonstrator to a police van in downtown Helsinki on Sunday, 21 June 2021. (Roni Rekomaa – Lehtikuva)


ACCUSATIONS of disregard and unfair treatment by police have emerged from some of the climate activists who spent a night in lock-up after a protest organised last weekend in Helsinki by Extinction Rebellion Finland.

“We’re naturally not expecting the lock-up to be a hotel, but the treatment should be lawful and reflective of human dignity,” Aliisa Maunula, the head of medial relations at Extinction Rebellion Finland, stated to Helsingin Sanomat on Monday.

Maunula told YLE that police officers had been irate and tried to get back at the activists by treating them badly.

Jarmo Heinonen, a chief inspector at Helsinki Police Department, responded to the claims by saying to the public broadcaster that he does not understand the alleged need of police to get back at the protesters.

“I don’t know where that idea is coming from. Taking people to lock-up is a very ordinary task for police that’s done on a daily basis.”

Helsinki Police Department on Sunday reported that it has brought 117 protesters into custody for failing to comply with police orders to vacate the road on what was already the fourth day of protesting in downtown Helsinki.

Maunula on Monday said to YLE that up to four to six protesters were loaded in a single police van without air conditioning and, practically, forced to sit on top of each other while waiting for transport to lock-up. She also told that some of the female protesters said their breasts had been exposed during the arrest, one even that she had been groped by a male officer.

Heinonen denied the first claim, saying he personally monitored the situation and did not see more than three protesters put in the same van.

He added that the situation was challenging because many of the protesters had to be carried into the van, making skin exposure possible especially if the protester was scantily clad. As several members of the media were on site to record the event, it is unlikely that any officer acted in the described manner deliberately, he viewed.

“If someone wanted to act like that, they’d hardly do it in an environment where everything is recorded,” he explained to Helsingin Sanomat.

The groping, he added, must be taken seriously and a criminal complaint lodged if necessary.

“At this point we don’t know if it was an incidence of mistreatment or an experience arising from a routine inspection,” he reminded the newspaper.

Maunula also stated that in lock-up officers had laughed off questions about the rights of protesters and turned down requests to flush the toilet and provide personal items, such as prescription medication and hygiene products.

Heinonen viewed that the protesters may be unaware of the differences between lock-up and interrogation during a pre-trial investigation.

“That’s when we make sure people understand what their rights and responsibilities are in the situation, but that kind of procedure isn’t really a part of taking someone into custody. I don’t know if the ones in lock-up had somehow unrealistic expectations,” he said to YLE.

He also reminded that the number of people in lock-up was unusually high on Sunday.

“The number of people in custody was very high. Their safety and looking after their property were the priorities, comfort was secondary,” he said to Helsingin Sanomat. “I don’t belittle their experiences, but having monitored police activity for a longer time I find rational explanations for these experiences. I don’t see that anyone acted badly deliberately.”

Extinction Rebellion Finland on Monday declared it intends to continue the protests until the government responds to its calls to declare a climate emergency.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT