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Complaints over police seizure of Nazi flags at Independence Day march

The complainants have accused the police of overreach and noted that the use of Nazi symbolism is not punishable in Finland.

Police removed Nazi flags from demonstrators participating in an Independence Day procession. Image: Martti Kainulainen / Lehtikuva

Legal authorities have received four complaints about the confiscation of Nazi flags by Helsinki police during Independence Day demonstrations last Thursday.

Two of the complaints were filed with the Parliamentary Ombudsman, one with the Chancellor of Justice and another with the National Police Board, which has forwarded that matter to the Office of the State Prosecutor, the organ responsibility for oversight of police actions.

All of the grievances were lodged by private individuals and request an investigation into the legality of police action in seizing Nazi flags wielded by members of the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement or PVL and in detaining four people.

The complaints accuse the police of taking the flags even though the use of Nazi symbols is not a punishable offence in Finland.

The document filed with the Chancellor of Justice claims that in removing the flag, "police exceeded their authority and acted contrary to their statutory duties and in violation of administrative legal principles without any basis in law."

The complainant also raised the issue of "a political motive for preventing the freedom of opinion by a group hated by the police".

So far there is no indication of how long it will take to process the complaints, but the Chancellor of Justice is expected to take three months to review cases that come before the office.

Police: Nazi flags a provocation

Last Thursday, police impounded three Nazi flags carried by participants in an Independence Day procession staged by the nationalist Kohti vapautta ("Toward Freedom") group. Police took action shortly after the procession left Kaisaniemenranta and was heading toward Hakaniemi.

At the time, Helsinki police communications chief, Chief Inspector Juha Hakola told Yle that the decision to remove the flags was based on assembly laws, which empower police to maintain order and security during public gatherings. Police speculated that the decision to carry Nazi flags was aimed at provocation and could lead to a situation that would endanger public safety.

In connection with the operation to confiscate the flags, police also removed four individuals from the procession because they attempted to prevent police from seizing the flags. Police justified detaining the four by saying that they wanted to prevent criminal activity and disruption.

Nearly 300 people participated in the PVL procession, which included dozens of members of the anti-immigrant Soldiers of Odin, a self-appointed street patrol group, and others dressed in PVL garb.