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Man acquitted for refusing military service despite six months in jail

The Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of a man who objected to serving in the army on the grounds of being a Jehovah’s Witness, leaving him eligible to claim damages against the state.

Suomen lippu varusmiehen hihassa.
Image: Matti Myller / Yle

A man who spent six months in prison for refusing military service has had his conviction overturned, despite having served his full sentence.

The man, who objected to serving in the Parola Armoured Brigade in 2009 and 2011 on the grounds of being a Jehovah’s Witness, was twice tried and twice found not guilty of refusing military service. Helsinki Court of Appeal later overturned the acquittal and the man was imprisoned for 172 days.

Finland’s Supreme Court has now overturned that conviction, although the decision comes too late to prevent the man from having to serve his full prison term.

Under Finland’s Conscription Act, Jehovah’s Witnesses can be exempt from military service if they can prove they are an active member of their religious community.

The man’s case may also have breached the double jeopardy principle, that a person who is acquitted for an offence cannot be tried a second time for the same offence.

The high court verdict now leaves the man eligible to claim damages from the state.

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