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Populist Finns Party chair sidesteps talk of blog post that drew hate speech conviction

The Helsingin Sanomat journalist who posed the question was ordered to hand over the microphone.

Jussi Halla-aho ja Matti Putkonen perussuomalaisten vaalivalvojaisissa Helsingissä.
Jussi Halla-aho (left) and Matti Putkonen on election night. Image: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva

Finns Party communications chair Jussi Halla-aho did not respond to a question about an old blog post for which he was convicted for religious defamation and ethnic agitation -- instead calling on communications chief Matti Putkonen to remove the microphone from the journalist posing the question.

The incident occurred during a party press conference on Thursday when Helsingin Sanomat reporter Jarno Hartikainen asked Halla-aho to comment on the blog writings, for which Halla-aho was fined by Finland’s Supreme Court in 2012.

He asked the party chair whether the texts were the rash comments of an angry young man, and which do not reflect his opinions, or if he still stands by his comments. Hartikainen placed his question in the context of the party leader’s old writings "appearing to complicate [government] negotiations".

The HS journalist was referring to Social Democratic Party chair Antti Rinne, who said following his narrow election victory last Sunday that he and Halla-aho had "differences of opinion related to humanity". On Monday, Rinne referenced Halla-aho’s writings once more in an interview with commercial broadcaster MTV, citing them as evidence of fundamental differences.

The Finns Party emerged from the nail-biting election with 39 seats, just behind the SDP's 40 seats and ahead of the National Coalition Party's 38, making the nationalist party a strong contender to be part of a government coalition.

Journalist told to hand over mic

During the press conference, Halla-aho began to respond to the question, saying that "It’s rather difficult to take the excerpt out of its context..." At this point, Hartikainen interrupted and offered to provide an excerpt on which Halla-aho could comment. However at this stage the event took a turn for the dramatic.

"No, no no," Halla-aho said, raising his voice, before calling on Putkonen to take the microphone away from the journalist. Putkonen complied and told Hartikainen to hand over the microphone.

"Enough of this. You posed your question, Halla-aho will answer and you will pass on the microphone," Putkonen instructed the journalist.

"You must comply with the rules here. We are not getting into these issues here," Halla-aho joined in.

However Halla-aho did not respond to Hartikainen’s question and the hosts moved on to take other questions.

In 2012, the Supreme Court ordered Halla-aho to pay a 50-day fine instead of a 30-day fine imposed by a lower court over the controversial blog post that he originally published in 2008. The Supreme Court said Halla-aho’s posts, which likened Islam to paedophilia and said Somalis are predisposed to stealing and living off welfare, qualified as inciting hatred against an ethnic group.

In its ruling, the court said hate speech does not fall under the protection afforded by freedom of speech. The court also ordered Halla-aho to remove the comments from the blog. Two lower courts had previously dismissed the hate speech charges and convicted the defendant of religious defamation.

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