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Prosecutor looks at assault claims in Extinction Rebellion pepper spray probe

Demonstrators were removed from the street after they sat down and blocked traffic.

Extinction Rebellion activists protested by stopping traffic in central Helsinki in October before they were moved on by police using pepper spray. Image: Pekka Tynell / Yle

Several police are being investigated over claims of breach of official duties, but prosecutors have now added assault suspicions to their preliminary investigation into police actions to end a demonstration by climate activists that blocked traffic for several hours in central Helsinki.

In early October a group of Extinction Rebellion activists sat down in the road in Kaisaniemi. Police attempted to move them on through persuasion, but in the end resorted to the use of pepper spray. Video of the incident spread rapidly on social media.

State prosecutors launched an investigation in mid-October, at first into allegations officers breached their official duties. In the course of the investigation, however, allegations have emerged that they also assaulted protesters.

"In the preliminary investigation we are looking at police actions and the complainants' requests for an investigation," said Special Prosecutor Heidi Savurinne, who is leading the preliminary investigation.

"It became apparent that there is reason to also look at matters relating to a possible assault charge. That is to protect the rights to justice of both parties."

Iltalehti was the first media to report on the assault charge aspect of the investigation.

We interviewed Extinction Rebellion activist Till Sawala on the APN podcast earlier this year. You can listen to the full podcast via the embedded player here or via Yle Areena, Spotify (siirryt toiseen palveluun), Apple Podcasts (siirryt toiseen palveluun) or your usual podcast player using the RSS feed (siirryt toiseen palveluun).

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Savurinne declined to specify how many police are under investigation. There are 15 victims in the probe, of whom 14 have made a formal complaint.

In addition, one bystander has also complained about the incident.

Investigators have obtained technical reports and interviewed both suspects and complainants.

"We are looking into police use of force and police actions in general in relation to this demonstration," said Savurinne. "We are looking into whether this was the mildest possible use of force, and whether force was used in accordance with the conditions set out in the police law and police force's own regulations."

The National Police Board has already said that in its view, police officers acted entirely correctly.

The prosecutors' preliminary investigation is expected to be ready early in the new year.