Defamation charges filed against Finns Party MP Mäenpää

The MP allegedly falsely accused a school rector of not reporting a suspected rape to police in a letter to newspapers.

Finns Party MP Juha Mäenpää. Image: Emmi Korhonen / Lehtikuva

Finns Party MP Juha Mäenpää will face defamation charges for allegedly writing libelous letters published by newspapers Ilkka and Pohjolainen last year, according to South Ostrobothnia District Court. The editors-in-chief also are facing editorial misconduct charges for publishing the comments.

The legal body confirmed to news service STT on Wednesday that charges were being filed against the defendants.

In his published statements, Mäenpää criticised Kyösti Nyyssölä, the rector of South Ostrobothnia Folk High School, an adult education centre, for not having reported a suspected rape to police.

According to regional newspaper Ilmajoki the school had, in fact, been in contact with police officers who reached the conclusion that no rape or any other crime had taken place.

The paper also reported that it was Nyyssölä who filed the criminal complaint regarding Mäenpää’s published statements, asking that police look into the matter.

However, Mäenpää told STT that he is not guilty of a crime.

"I do not think that the words amounted to the legal definition of defamation, because as far as I know one has the right to criticise institutional officials in the same manner as politicians," Mäenpää said.

Editors also facing charges

The former editors-in-chief of the newspapers Ilkka and Pohjolainen - Satu Takala and Toni Viljanmaa, respectively - also face charges related to the case, but for editorial misconduct rather than defamation. Takala is currently employed at Yle.

According to Finnish law, a news outlet’s editor-in-chief can be found guilty of the offence if he or she intentionally or negligently substantially violates the duties of leading and supervising the outlet’s editorial content.

If found guilty, the former chief editors could face fines, but both have denied they are guilty of the charges.

Since the incident last year, the two local papers have merged into a single publication called Ilkka-Pohjalainen.

The case is scheduled to be heard in South Ostrobothnia District Court on 24 March.

MP’s 'invasive species' comment

Mäenpää is also facing scrutiny from the country’s prosecutor general for inflammatory statements he made in parliament, in which he allegedly incited hatred against an ethnic group.

As Mäenpää delivered a speech before the legislature last June, he likened asylum seekers to an invasive species.

A preliminary police investigation into the matter found grounds for the charge. However, to move forward with an indictment, the prosecutor needs to secure the approval of five-sixths of lawmakers.

That is, a total of 167 out of parliament's 200 members would need to consent to the prosecutor's proposal.

The opposition Finns Party currently has 39 MPs in parliament, and if they all vote to reject the proposal, the prosecution cannot move forward.