Skip to content

State Prosecutor: Law on incitement against ethnic groups must be changed

In her farewell interview, retiring State Prosecutor Raija Toiviainen proposed changes to the freedom of expression laws and the enshrining the independence of the state prosecutor in the constitution.

Finland's State Prosecutor Raija Toiviainen retired on Friday. Image: Juha Kivioja / Yle

According to the retiring State Prosecutor Raija Toiviainen, the law on incitement against an ethnic group should be amended to make discrimination more explicit.

In her opinion, the provisions in the law do not clearly state that discrimination and the protection of ethnic groups is its purpose.

"It aims to ensure that there is no discrimination and that all people are equal. I would challenge the drafters to consider how the wording of the article could be made more explicit. It could help people to understand what type of speech constitutes unlawful communication," said Toiviainen.

Retiring State Prosecutor Toiviainen told her proposals for changes to the law in a farewell interview with Yle's Uutispodcast.

According to Toiviainen, people often do not realise that by speaking or writing in a certain way, they are in fact very seriously discriminating against a group of people and considering their human dignity inferior.

"After all, hate speech causes a lot of mental and physical harm to people. I have noticed that these are matters of enormous importance and must also be of deep concern to the prosecution service," Toiviainen stated.

Important to address hate speech

Toiviainen has become particularly well known for her work against hate speech.

For example, she prosecuted Päivi Räsänen (CD) for incitement against a group of people for her statements on homosexuality. The district court dismissed the charges, but the new prosecutor has appealed the case to the appeals court.

In addition, Toiviainen tried to get MP Juha Mäenpää (Finns) for his speeches in Parliament, in which he equated asylum seekers with invasive species. Parliament did not grant the State Prosecutor's Office a licence to prosecute the case.

Toiviainen stressed the importance of tackling hate speech.

"Personally, in these criminal cases, I have wanted to send a clear message that these need to be addressed. I really hope that people's equality, non-discrimination and other fundamental rights will be clear in the minds of those involved and that those belonging to minority groups will also feel that the legal system is on their side," Toiviainen emphasised.

Independent prosecutor in constitution

Especially in the case of Päivi Räsänen, Toiviainen felt that even international pressure was intense. She said she believes that many of the contacts and feedback came from countries where the role of prosecutor is not independent but politicised.

According to Toiviainen, the situation in Finland is good at the moment. The prosecutor is independent, but at the same time she is concerned about whether this independence will be maintained.

She would like to see the independence of prosecutors and the state prosecutor written into the constitution. At present, the law on prosecution already states that prosecutors are independent, but it is not protected by the constitution.

"At any moment, they could amend the Prosecutor's Act and make changes that would allow political actors to influence the independent and autonomous prosecutor's own judgement. Changing the constitution is much more difficult," Toiviainen explained.

Latest: paketissa on 10 artikkelia