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Prosecutor General alarmed by growing hate speech: "Driving victims into a corner"

Finland's Prosecutor General Raija Toiviainen says it is clear that racist statements breed bitterness and lead to increased radicalisation and terrorism.

Raija Toiviainen Image: Jouni Immonen / Yle

Finland's Acting Prosecutor General Raija Toiviainen is concerned about rising levels of hate speech in Finland. She says targeted racist attacks on certain societal groups are an acute worry.

"A person who feels marginalised can easily become bitter, making them a perfect target for recruiters from violent extremist groups. Nothing good can come of this," she said in an Yle interview Saturday morning.

Finland's Constitution guarantees freedom of speech to everyone. Yet Toiviainen believes firmly that even freedom of speech has its limits. Hate speech that is an assault on human dignity should not be afforded freedom of speech's protections.

"We have many social grievances and we have to be able to speak openly about them and use strong language, if necessary, but it is unacceptable for someone to threaten, slander or insult a certain segment of society, and in this way, offend people's human dignity," she said. 

Tackling social media hate speech

The prosecution of crimes committed in the media is one of the responsibilities of Finland's Office of the Prosecutor General. These days the media also includes social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, blogs and chat sites.

Toiviainen says that in her opinion, the most offensive racist crimes that take place online are those in which a person's comments incite towards ethnic or racial hatred or breach the sanctity of religion.

"Incitement crimes always have a racist motive behind them that seeks to offend someone's human dignity," she said in the interview.

Ostracised people are easily radicalised

Prosecutor General Toiviainen says that racist hate speech cuts off its victims from the rest of society.

"Racism's targets are driven into a corner, where it is easy to become bitter. This creates the perfect breeding ground for organised crime or even terrorism... People who have been chased to the fringes of our society are easy to manipulate and cajole into extremist groups. Do people that spread racist hate speech realize the effects of what they are doing?" she wonders.

Raija Toiviainen has served as the Acting Prosecutor General since September 2017, when her predecessor Matti Nissinen was charged with official misconduct and suspended from his post. Nissinen was suspected of nepotism for channelling training work to his brother's company over an eight-year period, a charge he denied.