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Climate protestors report mistreatment while in police custody

Police removed over 100 Extinction Rebellion demonstrators that were blocking traffic in downtown Helsinki on Sunday evening.

Elokapinan mielenosoitus Mannerheimintiellä 20. kesäkuuta 2021.
The protestors have criticised the manner in which police took the demonstrators into custody. Image: Juho Liukkonen / Yle
Yle News

Climate protesters taken into police custody last weekend have made claims of inappropriate treatment during their arrests and while being held in the holding cells of Nihtisilta in Espoo and Kisahalli in Helsinki.

Aliisa Maunula, media contact for the protest organiser Extinction Rebellion Finland (Elokapina in Finnish), was one of over 100 protesters detained and said the police were angry and wanted to take revenge on the demonstrators.

Helsinki police chief Jarmo Heinonen told Yle however that he did not understand why the police would want to take revenge or how that revenge would be carried out.

"I don't know where that idea comes from. Taking people to cells is a very mundane task for the police, carried out on a daily basis," Heinonen said.

The Extinction Rebellion protest began last Thursday on Mannerheimintie in front of Finland's parliament building, before briefly moving to the Kruununhaka area and then to Unioninkatu. Police took an estimated 117 protestors into custody on Sunday evening when the protest moved back to Mannerheimintie.

Dispute over manner of arrests

Maunula told Yle that the protesters arrested on Mannerheimintie were transported to the cells in groups of between four and six people in police cars with no air conditioning. She added that they had to sit almost on top of each other in the same cramped space, and that the cars were parked in the heat for a time before leaving for the facility.

Heinonen disputed these allegations, saying all cars in the police department are air-conditioned. He also said he was at the scene to monitor the arrests, and he did not see any more than three people being put in any of the police's vehicles.

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Elokapinan mielenosoitus Mannerheimintiellä 20. kesäkuuta 2021.
A protestor being taken into police custody on Sunday, 20 June. Image: Juho Liukkonen / Yle

Maunula said however that according to some of the female protestors their breasts had been exposed during their detentions, and some also may have been groped during their arrests.

According to Heinonen, the police act to the best of their abilities depending on the situation, but in the case of the climate demonstration many of the protestors had to be carried away. Many were also wearing very little clothes, Heinonen noted, so he did not find it impossible to believe that some parts of the body may have been exposed while a person was being carried.

Heinonen added that several media outlets were recording the arrests, and he took it for granted that no officer would intentionally commit such an act in front of the cameras.

"I do not consider it impossible that such situations could arise, but it seems to be related to the moments when people were being carried away," he said, adding that the protesters could also have been more cooperative.

"If most of the detainees came to the police car on their own, there would be far fewer such allegations and experiences," Heinonen said.

Differing interpretations of night in detention

The protestors' account of the night in detention also differs from the police version. According to Maunula, the arrested protesters had tried to ask about their rights, but felt they were only greeted with laughter in response.

According to Heinonen, people may think that the situation of detention is similar in nature to the situation where a person comes in for questioning in relation to a suspected crime.

"Then, before the interrogation, the person is made clear of his or her rights and obligations in that situation, but the detention is not really subject to a similar procedure. I don’t know if the expectations of the detainees were somehow unrealistic," he said.

The protesters also claim that their requests were not properly addressed.

"Full doses of prescription medicines were not given. People were not brought to the toilet when requested. Women were not brought tampons from their own belongings when they asked," Maunula said.

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Personer demonstrerar med att sitta på bilvägen.
The climate protest began on Thursday 17 June outside Parliament building on Helsinki's Mannerheimintie. Image: Miro Johansson / Yle

Heinonen replied that there was only one guard on site that could answer to all the individual requests, and he advised that the best way to resolve such matters is through a complaint procedure. However, he further noted that the cells were full at the time and the police were busy.

"It may lead to tasks such as toilet trips being delayed. I would assume that the staff there had their hands full of work," Heinonen said.

Crammed cells

Maunula also told Yle that the cells were full, and that she herself was in the same cell along with several other people and only one mattress. No further blankets or mattresses were available or provided on request and, Maunula added, the detained protestors were unnecessarily woken up during the night, for example by loud rattling noises.

Heinonen said he does not believe that an extra blanket or mattress would have been denied intentionally. He also said that the police aim to hold as few people as possible in detention facilities, but due to the large number of detainees on Sunday night more people had to be placed in the same cell.

Last year police used pepper spray to break up a similar climate protest in Helsinki, and the All Points North podcast looked into the issue of force used by Finnish police. You can listen to the full podcast via the embedded player here or via Yle Areena, Spotify (siirryt toiseen palveluun), Apple Podcasts (siirryt toiseen palveluun) or your usual podcast player using the RSS feed (siirryt toiseen palveluun).

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According to Heinonen, the idea of a police detention facility is to be a safe place where a detained person is placed. Convenience factors are secondary. The facilities are not meant to be uncomfortable, and the detention is not meant to harm anyone, but the main purpose is to keep the detained person away from a public place, he said.

"No police detention facility is hotel level accommodation. If we start from that assumption, then such experiences may arise," Heinonen said.

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