Three journalists working for Finland’s largest daily newspaper are on trial starting today on charges of leaking classified defense secrets, and prosecutors are seeking at least 18 months in prison, suspended, if found guilty.
In an unprecedented case for a country renowned for its freedom of the press, the prosecutor alleges that the two Helsingin Sanomat newspaper reporters and their former director leaked national defense secrets in a report published in 2017.
The report, titled “Finland’s Most Secret Place”, revealed approximately the location and duties of an intelligence-gathering unit of the armed forces. At the time parliament was debating whether to expand its powers, allowing it to monitor private data on digital networks.
According to the prosecutor, the article contained information the publication of which was illegal.
The newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Caius Niemi, against whom charges were dropped due to lack of evidence, said the journalists did not break the law. “We can prove, for each published proposal, that the information it contained could be found online or in books published before our article. Public information cannot be secret,” he commented.
All three journalists deny their guilt.
Finland has for years been in the top positions in terms of freedom of the press, in the report compiled every year by the international organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF). This year it fell to fifth place, partly because of that court case, as reported by RSF’s Finland branch.
Journalists were not present at today’s preparatory court session.
Hanne Aho, the president of the Union of Finnish Journalists, said that this case is unprecedented, as it has never been before that Finnish journalists have been charged with high treason.
Under Finnish law, defendants in criminal trials are only named if convicted.