Finnish reporters found guilty of revealing classified intel

Press freedom groups, Finnish media warn ruling could have a chilling effect on reporting in the Nordic nation.

A Finnish army soldier
Case centred on a 2017 investigative report by Helsingin Sanomat that divulged 10-year-old data on an intelligence unit of the Finnish defence forces [File: Stoyan Nenov/Reuters]

Two investigative journalists for a major daily newspaper in Finland have been found guilty of revealing classified defence intelligence in a rare criminal trial over press freedom in the Nordic country.

The Helsinki district court said on Friday it sentenced Tuomo Pietilainen to pay a fine for his role as the lead writer of a 2017 story headlined, Finland’s most secret place. The value of the fine was not immediately disclosed.

Pietilainen’s colleague, Laura Halminen, was left unsentenced because she had a lesser role in the reporting. The court acquitted then-acting manager Kalle Silfverberg.

Pietilainen and Halminen denied all wrongdoing and can appeal the verdict. The reporters have said the information published was public, the Huvudstadsbladet newspaper reported.

The 2017 investigative report by the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper divulged 10-year-old data on the rough location and tasks of an intelligence unit of the Finnish defence forces. It came at a time when parliament was debating whether to expand its powers to monitor private data on digital networks.

“Several types of information regarding military intelligence were made public, which had been regulated to be kept secret for the sake of Finland’s external security,” the court said in a statement.

The report was ordered removed from Helsingin Sanomat’s website.

‘Damage to freedom of speech’

Finland has for years been among the top countries in a global press freedom ranking compiled by the Reporters Without Borders media watchdog.

But it slipped to fifth place out of 180 countries last year, in part because of the case against Pietilainen and Halminen.

Commenting on Friday’s verdict, the group called it a “dangerous precedent” for the Finnish nation and press freedom more widely.

“If a court in Finland, a country ranked on the top of the World Press Freedom Index … prosecutes journalists for reporting on national security issues, what message is this for the countries ranked lower in the Index?” it asked in a statement.

Antero Mukka, Helsingin Sanomat’s editor-in-chief, also voiced disappointment about the ruling. “Despite the moderate punishments, the damage to freedom of speech has already been carried out,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies