Supreme Court overturns defamation verdict against journalist

Johanna Vehkoo's conviction for calling a city councillor a "racist" and "Nazi clown" had been upheld by an appeal court last year, but was dismissed by the Supreme Court.

August 2020 file photo of Johanna Vehkoo (left) arriving at Rovaniemi Court of Appeal. Image: Paulus Markkula / Yle

The Supreme Court has overturned the defamation conviction handed down to writer and journalist Johanna Vehkoo, ruling that her 2016 Facebook post did not insult former Oulu city councillor Junes Lokka as a person.

Rovaniemi Court of Appeal last year upheld the 2019 verdict by Oulu District Court, which ordered Vehkoo to pay Lokka 200 euros for the suffering he experienced as well as to pay the complainant's legal fees, which amounted to about 6,000 euros.

However, in a ruling on Tuesday morning, the Supreme Court dismissed the defamation charge, the liability for damages and released Vehkoo from the obligation to reimburse Lokka's legal costs.

The case stems from a Facebook post in which Vehkoo described Lokka as a "racist" and "Nazi clown".

Contrary to the verdicts of the lower courts, the Supreme Court considered the post to be a criticism of Lokka's conduct as a politician, not as a person, and to be a matter of public interest.

"In view of the derogatory and hostile statements made by Lokka in public, the terms used in the [Facebook post] text are not considered to have gone beyond what could be considered acceptable," the KKO stated in its judgment.

Vehkoo wrote the post after she learned that Lokka was planning to come to a bookstore in Rovaniemi, where she was due to give a talk. Lokka planned to attend under the guise of being a journalist, record her speech and harass her during her talk, Vehkoo said.

Lokka meanwhile said he only intended to interview Vehkoo, and in no way to ambush her. He therefore filed a criminal report over the Facebook post.

Vehkoo had previously said that she considered Lokka's criminal complaint to be a form of harassment against her due to her job as a journalist. Vehkoo is a freelance journalist and a contributor to Yle's "Lie detector" (Valheenpaljastaja) series, which largely deals with fake news.

Lokka is an anti-immigration activist, with three prior convictions for ethnic incitement.

He was convicted in October 2021 of incitement against a group of people for a speech to Oulu City Council in February 2020 during which he suggested that the council hire "death patrols".

Lokka has previously been convicted of incitement for videos published on his YouTube channel in 2016 and 2017. District and appeals courts ruled that the videos insulted and slandered Muslims and immigrants on the basis of their religion or origin.