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Ohisalo: 'No comment' on police pepper spray incident

The Interior Minister said she would not comment on police using pepper spray to disperse a peaceful protest.

Elokapinan mielenosoitus Helsingin Kaisaniemessä
Some legal experts say police shouldn't have used pepper spray to disperse protesters who were not behaving aggressively. Image: Pekka Tynell / Yle

Speaking to the media on Monday, Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo (Green) said she would wait for a report regarding actions taken by police at a climate protest in downtown Helsinki on Saturday before issuing any comments on the matter.

However, the minister said the right to assemble and express opinions were basic rights in a democratic state governed by the rule of law. She also noted that the use of force should always be a last resort.

Helsinki police have issued a statement saying they repeatedly 'advised, commanded and urged' protesters to move out of the street before using pepper spray to disperse a crowd of climate activists in Helsinki's Kaisaniemi district.

Since coming under scrutiny, Helsinki police have defended the use of pepper spray, saying it wouldn’t have been physically possible for officers to carry all of the demonstrators out of the road.

Noting that Saturday’s protest was peaceful, Kimmo Nuotio, a criminal law professor at the University of Helsinki, told Yle on Monday that police may have overstepped their powers as the use of pepper spray was only warranted in situations presenting a risk of violence or property damage. Another legal scholar, Henri Rikander, told Yle police actions clearly signaled a change from earlier policy.

"Passive protesters have usually been carried away," he explained.

The Helsinki police is expected to finish its report and submit it to the National Police Board in the next two days.

By noon on Monday the Parliamentary Ombudsman had received seven complaints regarding police action at Saturday’s Extinction Rebellion (Elokapina) protest that took place at the intersection of Kaisaniemenkatu and Unioninkatu.

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