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Interior minister opposes swastika ban despite police call for clearer laws

Interior Minister Kai Mykkänen said he opposes banning the display of swastikas and that selectively revoking freedom of speech rights could be problematic.

Neo-Nazi protesters in Helsinki on Thursday. Image: Martti Kainulainen / Lehtikuva

Finland's Interior Minister Kai Mykkänen said on Friday he is opposed to banning swastikas while applauding police for performing its duties well on Thursday. Police forcibly removed swastika flags from four neo-Nazi demonstrators in central Helsinki. Some have called for an outright ban on the display of the controversial symbol, while some members of the police say they would like clarity on the matter.

In contrast to countries like Sweden and Germany, which ban the public display of the symbol, the swastika is not forbidden in Finland. However, police can confiscate such symbols on signage if they are used for ethnic agitation, for example.

"It is not necessarily helpful to start regulating signs and symbols. It's more important that the police have a way to intervene if needed," Mykkänen said during an Yle Radio 1 interview on Friday morning.

"We would have to carefully consider which symbols would then be separated from [the protected rights of] freedom of speech and expression," Mykkänen added.

Police want clarity

According to police, interpreting the ambiguous law is not easy, especially in fast-moving situations.

"If the laws were clear on what is legal and what is not, it would make it easier. Those who engage in unlawful activity would also be conscious of their offense," Chief Superintendent Juha Hakola from Helsinki Police said on Yle’s Aamu-TV on Friday.

"In cases like this, the police need clearer laws," he added.

Police said that four participants who took part in the neo-Nazi-backed Towards Freedom or "Kohti vapautta" march carried the swastika flags in a bid to provoke, which in turn could have posed a risk to public safety.

"Even though the swastika has not been officially banned, it sends a very strong racist and intolerant message," Hakola said.

Police have now launched an investigation into whether the flying of the flags constituted agitation against an ethnic group.