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US pulls award to Yle journalist over Trump critique

The US State Department said that Aro had been "incorrectly" notified that she would receive the prize.

Donald Trump ja Vladimir Putin tapasivat Helsingissä 16. heinäkuuta.
The Trump administration has shied away from hiring experts critical of the US president. Image: Anatoly Maltsev / EPA

Yle investigative journalist Jessika Aro will not receive the International Women of Courage Award in Washington after having been told by the US State Department, which grants it, that she would receive the award.

The award was to have been presented by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo but the State Department announced that Aro had been “incorrectly” notified that she would receive the prize, according to US online news publication Foreign Policy which broke the story.

Aro had been formally invited to the award ceremony by the US State Department’s Office of the Chief of Protocol in February. Officials later said that she had been nominated for recognition by the US Embassy in Helsinki.

The news magazine added that officials said that the error was caused by "a lack of coordination in communications with candidates and our embassies".

However the outlet spoke with US officials who suggested a different narrative, according to which Aro was effectively disinvited because of her sharp criticism of US President Donald Trump on Twitter.

Sources also pointed to the Trump administration’s reluctance to hire experts who had previously denounced the Republican candidate during the 2016 election campaign.

Death threats, offensive messages

Aro told Foreign Policy that she had been caught off guard by the decision to cancel the award.

“[When] I was informed about the withdrawal out of the blue, I felt appalled and shocked,” Aro told FP. “The reality in which political decisions or presidential pettiness directs top U.S. diplomats’ choices over whose human rights work is mentioned in the public sphere and whose is not is a really scary reality.”

Aro is an award-winning journalist who has written exposés about Russian troll farms and their attempts to influence online discourse. Her work landed her in the crosshairs of Finnish anti-immigrant website MV-lehti and its founder Ilja Janitskin.

Last October Janitskin was sentenced to 22 months in prison and was also fined along with two other defendants for a welter of charges including aggravated definition and aggravated incitement against an ethnic group.

Aro, who had also written extensively about MV-lehti, received death threats, offensive messages and threats of sexual violence, prompted by articles posted on Janitskin’s site.

Janitskin recently announced a bid for election to the Finnish Parliament during elections due on 14 April, as well as for the European Parliament in elections scheduled for May. He will run on the ticket of the Seven Star Movement, established by long-time Finnish politician Paavo Väyrynen.

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