Kai Kotiranta, the legal counsel for Laura Halminen, Kalle Silfverberg and Helsingin Sanomat, spoke to reporters at the District Court of Helsinki on Friday, 27 January 2023. Kotiranta said he is concerned about the ramifications of the ruling for the work of journalists in Finland. (Markku Ulander – Lehtikuva)


THE DISTRICT COURT of Helsinki on Friday found two journalists guilty of disclosing national secrets over a story about the Finnish Defence Intelligence Agency (VKoeL) in Helsingin Sanomat on 16 December 2017, reports YLE.

The court determined that the article disclosed a number of military intelligence-related details that had been classified on grounds of national security.

Tuomo Pietiläinen, the journalist who was mainly responsible for the story, was issued a 50-day fine. Laura Halminen, the other journalist named in the byline, was not sentenced on grounds of her lesser role in the story.

“The other journalist had a clearly lesser role than her colleague, and she had sought to make sure it was lawful to publish. The district court refrained from sentencing her for these reasons,” the ruling reads according to the Finnish public broadcasting company.

The court also cited the prolonged trial proceedings as grounds for its sentencing decision.

Kalle Silfverberg, who at the time of publication was the superior of Pietiläinen, was acquitted of charges after the court ruled that he had neither committed nor abetted the disclosure of national secrets. The prosecution had demanded that all three journalists be sentenced at minimum to suspended prison terms of 18 months.

The court ordered the daily newspaper to remove and “dispose of” the story from its website.

Helsingin Sanomat and its three journalists were ordered to cover the 17,500 euros in legal costs incurred by the plaintiff, the Finnish Defence Forces.

The journalists had denied all criminal allegations, arguing that the story did not disclose actual national secrets and that they had not made the final decision to publish. Timo Ylikantola, the defence counsel of Pietiläinen, on Friday stated that the defendants intend to appeal against what he described as a problematic ruling for journalists and investigative journalism.

“How can you do investigative journalism about the defence forces or other security instances?” he asked.

Kai Kotiranta, who represented Halminen, Silfverberg and Helsingin Sanomat, similarly estimated that sentencing two journalists for “routine journalistic work” will create obvious tensions in regards to exercising the freedom of speech and press.

Their concerns were shared by Journalists in Finland.

“The fact alone that this process started is highly unusual in a country like Finland. Also the ruling was surprising,” Hanne Aho, the chairperson of Journalists in Finland, stated to YLE. “This case can be considered a watershed moment. It’s the duty of journalists to tell the public what’s going on in this country. That right has hereby been restricted.”

The 2021 decision to charge the journalists drew criticism from, among others, the International Press Institute (IPI).

Aho viewed that it is particularly alarming from the perspective of journalistic work that the court effectively defined what can and cannot be published.

“In Finland, it appears that slightly different rules apply to the defence forces and national defence. It’s difficult for journalists to know what they can write about. This can easily lead to self-censorship,” she warned.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT