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Controversial academic charged over harassment, slander of Yle journalist

Prosecutors say that the alleged campaign by Johan Bäckman targeted a media figure with the aim of influencing the journalism produced.

Johan Bäckman
Johan Bäckman Image: Jussi Nukari / Lehtikuva

Finnish academic Johan Bäckman has been accused of criminal offences against an Yle journalist.

Bäckman faces charges in the Helsinki District Court for harassment and aggravated defamation of Yle journalist Jessikka Aro. According to charges laid by prosecutors on Monday, the suspected offences took place between 2014 and 2016.

Bäckman has enjoyed a high degree of visibility in Russian media as an expert on Russian child custody rights abroad. He is also listed as the Northern Europe representative for the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS), a Kremlin-funded research group that is believed to have links to Russian intelligence services. In 2014, he sought appointment as Finland’s Children’s Ombudsman.

Prosecutor Juha-Mikko Hämäläinen said that the charge of aggravated slander was justified by the scale of the attacks and their consequences.

“There is also a certain way in which the action focused on a representative of the media because of her work and the apparent intention was to influence the quality of her work,” Hämäläinen told the Finnish news agency STT.

However the prosecutor would not comment further on the suspected offences or the penalty the prosecution is seeking.

“The details will become public when the case comes before the court. The preliminary investigation also names an Yle employee as a suspect believed to have participated in the persecution,” Hämäläinen added. However he did not press charges against the individual since his or her role was deemed to be negligible.

Bäckman did not comment when contacted by Yle.

Aro is also a plaintiff in another case involving stories published by the Finnish anti-immigrant website MV-lehti.

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