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Finland sees uptick in ethnicity-related hate crimes

Finnish Police received more than 1,100 complaints of suspected hate crimes last year, an eight percent increase from the previous year.

Poliisin logon Turun pääpoliisiaseman seinässä.
File photo of Finnish police logo. Image: Kalle Mäkelä / Yle

There are no laws on the books in Finland that specifically define hate crimes. However, police departments across the country have improved their monitoring and recording of crimes - both in real life as well as online - which were found to be motivated by discrimination and ethnic hatred.

There were some 1,165 complaints made about suspected hate crimes across the country in 2017, according to statistics compiled by Finland’s Police University College, the country’s police academy.

That’s an increase of eight percent, but somewhat less than the peak recorded in 2015 when more than 32,000 asylum seekers arrived in the country.

The most common hate crime-related violations included verbal threats, harassment and assaults, and accounted for a 50 percent increase over the previous year.

Police said the most common motivation for such crimes was the victim’s ethnic or national identity, accounting for some 70 percent of offences. In 75 percent of those cases it was a native Finn who committed a crime against a minority.

Last year saw an increase in hate crimes directed at victims' religion or beliefs, which represented some 20 percent of the criminal reports.

The researchers said it remains difficult to draw conclusions from the numbers of hate crimes, as increases may be due to improved record-keeping. They added that more crimes are uncovered as investigations increase. Police have also stepped up monitoring of social media and other online platforms in this regard.

Majority never reported

However, most hate crimes carried out in the country never come to the attention of law enforcement. A 2016 justice ministry study found that only 21 percent of harassment or hate speech incidents were reported to authorities. Victims of such attacks may feel shame, be uncertain of their legal rights or have a lack of confidence in the police, according to the study.

Academy researcher Jenita Rauta said hate crimes carried out based on religion or ethnicity go hand-in-hand.

“I’ve seen a lot of reports of offences in which a person became a victim because of his [or her] skin colour or beliefs,” Rauta said.

Muslims were most likely to be the victims of hate crimes last year.

Police also recorded six cases of suspected honor-related violence in 2017. These types of crimes were often carried out by parents who abused or threatened their children for dating someone outside their culture or changed their religion, according to the research.

Law enforcement authorities in Finland have enhanced their abilities to identify and prevent hate crimes, according to the Police Board.

A directive issued by the board states that hate-related crimes should be specified in police reports whenever authorities suspect that is the case.

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