Following a wave of reports of individuals in clown outfits attempting to scare children and other passersby around Finland, police in Espoo have fined two boys for such activity. The two masked 15-year-olds were fined for breach of the peace in the Tapiola suburb on Thursday evening. Their parents were notified.
This marks the first case of police in Finland's most populous region, Uusimaa, apprehending anyone for such scare tactics, despite many rumoured incidents. The Finnish sightings over the past few weeks follow similar phenomena in the US and elsewhere in Europe.
Also on Thursday evening, police in the nearby Helsinki district of Lauttasaari observed a group of youngsters dressed as clowns. They ran away as officers approached. In the Malmi area of north-eastern Helsinki, authorities received reports of people yelling who may have been wearing masks.
Police expect more such incidents this weekend, says Superintendant Jere Roimu of the Helsinki police.
"This has received a lot of media attention and been the subject of much discussion," he told Yle.
"As the weekend arrives, it's very possible that there will be more of these cases. Groups head out for a good time, and after a bit of alcohol, some may get it into their heads that this might be fun," Roimu speculates.
"Not clowns by any definition"
Meanwhile clowns who work to cheer up children at hospitals are dismayed by the phenomenon.
"These people who dress up to be scary are not clowns by any definition," says Aino Viertola, Executive Director of the Finnish Hospital Clowns Association.
The group's 40 specially-trained artists work at paediatric clinics in Helsinki, Turku, Tampere, Kuopio and Oulu.
"This phenomenon is based on some kind of attention-seeking and is very difficult to understand. Frightening children is cowardly and repulsive. There's nothing funny about it," she adds.
Viertola notes that real clowns represent a centuries-old art form that is based on interaction, empathy and creating happiness.
"Clowning is never destructive or evil. This kind of activity violates all of its principles. Clowning is aimed at producing joy," says actress and hospital clown Tanjalotta Räikkä, who heads the association's artistic division.
"We're worried that our clowns will face more cautious responses while this is in the news," she says.