A Somali group in the eastern town of Lieksa is filing a criminal complaint accusing a local Finns Party politician, Esko Saastamoinen, of slander. The local police have already independently launched their own investigation into a suspected case of incitement against an ethnic group and discrimination.
Until this week, Saastamoinen led the Finns Party delegation on the city council. At a public meeting on Monday, he demanded that the delegation be given a new meeting room. He said this was necessary because the current room was also used by a Somali working group at other times each week.
Comment revealed in local paper
"The Finns Party chair told the city secretary that he feared that his members might catch something infectious if they used the room. His party comrade then said in an agitated tone of voice that the venue should be fumigated," in order to sterilise it, says Marja Mölsä, editor in chief of the local newspaper Lieksan Lehti, who was sitting nearby.
"If we had not done a story on this, no-one would have ever heard about it," she adds.
The Somali committee is aimed at improving cooperation between immigrants and the mainstream population in the town. Lieksa is a town of some 12,000, located about 100 kilometres north of Joensuu in the North Karelia region of eastern Finland.
“We cannot accept this behaviour, which is a racist attack and an insult toward one part of the population. These words were partly directed at children and women,” say committee chair Mohamed Hersi and deputy chair Liibaan Maalin in a statement.
Mayor praises immigrant committee
City manager Esko Lehto tells Yle he has had good experiences with the committee and its work. Lehto himself set up the group in the spirit of Finland’s Integration Act, which came into effect in 1999.
“I don’t have any criticism of them,” he says. “On the contrary, our meetings have always been held in a positive spirit and have been completely proper and businesslike.”
Yle has not been able to reach the Finns Party's Saastamoinen, who is abroad. He has since been replaced as a chair of the party delegation, but continues to serve as first deputy chair of the Lieksa city council.
Politicians from the populist, immigration-sceptical Finns Party, at both the local and national levels, have been involved in a series of controversies over race-related comments and actions.