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Finnish prosecutors facing more threats

A new survey shows a sharp upswing in harassment and attempts to intimidate prosecutors in Finland.

Matkapuhelin miehen kädessä, ruudulla teksti "Tiedän missä asut!!!".
A phone text message saying "I know where you live!!!". Over half of prosecutors surveyed say they have been targets of threats. Image: Arttu Kuivanen / Yle
Yle News

Harassment, online targeting, even death threats have become increasingly common experiences for Finland's public prosecutors, according to a survey of members of the national Prosecutors' Association.

Association chair Jukka Haavisto says that much of the harassment comes in the form of unsubstantiated complaints and criminal reports filed against prosecutors, but worse happens as well.

Most of the harassment takes place via social media or email.

"There are death threats, and threats against family members, for example, saying that 'I know where your child goes to school', or 'I know where you live'. There have also been cases where messages have been left in prosecutors' mailboxes and people have made a point of being seen near the prosecutor's home," Haavisto relates.

The recent survey by the Prosecutors' Association found that 55 percent of respondents said they had encountered harassment because of their work. The corresponding figure was 40 percent in a survey conducted just five years ago.

"The situation has not improved since the previous survey. It has slowly and consistently become more serious," says Haavisto.

One in five respondents said they had experienced the threat of violence. Every fourth had been the target of online harrassment.

There are 425 prosecutors in Finland in five prosecution districts and the Office of the Prosecutor General. About a third of the members of the Finnish Prosecutor's Association responded to the survey.

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New instances every week

Haavisto, who is deputy head of the Southern Finland Prosecution District and its occupational health and safety manager, is worried about the situation.

"Yes, these things keep coming up. It affects how people cope and it is difficult for them. Often threats are also directed at family members," he noted.

Kimmo Virtanen, deputy head of the Turku office of the Western Finland Prosecution District, believes that the results of the survey correspond to reality.

"My own observations are similar. This happens on a weekly basis," he says.

Virtanen points out that the work of prosecutors is hard, and harassment makes the situation even worse.

"We have cases where someone started harassing prosecutors years ago via email. Last year, there was one slightly more threatening case in which official measures had to be taken," he says.

Most prosecutors do not like to talk about, or file criminal reports about the harassment or threats they encounter. Matters are mainly discussed within the workplace.

Virtanen adds that as far he is aware, no criminal reports stemming from harassment have been filed in Turku. His impression is that prosecutors don't want to file charges, because they would likely have to deal with even more harassment from the same people.

Support for criminalisation

In the past, threats and pressure on prosecutors took place in courtrooms or over the phone. Nowadays it is focused online.

Online targeting through social media has become the new main means of harassment, often drawing in people who are complete outsiders.

The Prosecutors' Association asked members if they believe that online targeting should be classed as a separate crime subject to official prosecution.

Of respondents, 88 percent supported the idea.

"It would be a help in protecting the work of prosecutors and other authorities. It would provide better opportunities to combat harassment," says Virtanen.

Haavisto adds that making online targeting a criminal offense would not only concern prosecutors, but also protect the work of researchers, journalists and other public figures.

Without a legislative change, it is difficult to deal with these actions, he said.

"Current regulations work well for a single person's messaging, but if the message is amplified by the next person and the next one, and becoming ever more threatening, it is difficult to deal with this at the moment," Haavisto points out.

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