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Panel: Finland needs sharper legislative teeth to combat terrorism

A working group set up the Justice Ministry is calling for changes to Finnish law that would expand the range of crimes that could be defined as terrorism.

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Downloading instructions on explosives could be punishable by law. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

Under a proposed reform unveiled this week by the Ministry of Justice, aggravated interference with communications could be interpreted as a terrorist offence, for instance. So could independent study in preparation for a terrorist act.

The basic idea is that a suspect can be shown to have the intention of carrying terrorist acts, says the committee's chair, Justice Ministry legislative counsellor Janne Kanerva.

However he stresses that studying bomb-making, for example, would not automatically be labelled as terror-related. Downloading a bomb-making guide would only become a terrorist crime if prosecutors can show that it was done with the aim of carrying out an attack.

"Visiting a website is not enough"

At present, it is punishable by law to accept training from another person aimed at a terrorist act. If the proposal goes through, independent study would also be punishable.

So could a person who looks at bomb-making instructions or a terror group's guidebooks purely out of curiosity be charged with a terrorist offence?

"Just visiting a website and printing and storing material is not enough. One would have to prove that the activity was done with a terroristic purpose in mind," explains Kanerva.

How could this be proven?

"That might be a challenge," he concedes. "There would have to be other evidence than just visiting a site, for instance evidence of communications in which the person expresses a terroristic intention. The information about a case would have to be evaluated as a whole."

The panel proposes that for instance aggravated damage to data or aggravated interference with communications could be considered terrorism, which would significantly ratchet up the punishments for them.

Under Finnish law, a crime is defined as terroristic if it is intended to "cause serious fear among the population" or to "cause serious harm to the state economy or the fundamental social structures of the state" or an international organisation, among other stipulations based on a 2002 EU decision.

Arranging a trip could be a crime, too

Facilitating travel linked to terrorism would also become a crime. It would be treated similarly to the financing of terrorism, which is already on the books as a terrorist offence.

"In this case, too, the person facilitating the travel would have to be aware of the purpose of the trip from an early stage," Kanerva points out.

The planned reforms are in line with an EU directive aimed at beefing up prevention of terror-related crimes.

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