A Finnish court on Friday said two journalists at Finland’s largest daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat were found guilty of revealing classified defense intelligence, in a rare criminal trial restricting press freedom in the Nordic country.
Helsinki district court said it had sentenced Tuomo Pietilainen, the lead writer of a 2017 report entitled “Finland’s most secret place,” to pay a fine, while his colleague Laura Halminen was sentenced but left without a punishment because of her minor role in the reporting.
Finland has for years been among the top countries in a global press freedom ranking published by Reporters Without Borders, but last year slipped to fifth place of 180 countries, partly due to the court case.
“If a court in Finland, a country ranked on the top of the World Press Freedom Index […], prosecutes journalists for reporting on national security issues, what message is this for the countries ranked lower in the Index?” Reporters Without Borders asked in a statement, calling it “a dangerous precedent.”
The 2017 investigative report by Helsingin Sanomat revealed 10-year-old data on the rough location and tasks of an intelligence unit of the defense forces at a time when parliament was debating whether to expand its powers to monitor private data in digital networks.
“several types of information regarding military intelligence were made public, which had been regulated to be kept secret for the sake of Finland’s external security,” the court said in a release.
The court maintained that the revealed details had no connection to the legislation debated by the parliament and that the article did not reveal any problems or malpractices that could have justified its publication.
Helsingin Sanomat Editor-in-Chief Antero Mukka said the newspaper was disappointed by the verdict.
“Despite the moderate punishments, the damage to freedom of speech has already been carried out,” he said in a statement.
The court acquitted an editor who it said did not participate in the revelations.
The journalists all denied any wrongdoing and have the possibility to appeal the verdict.
Prosecutors had sought suspended prison sentences of at least 18 months for the trio.
Helsingin Sanomat is published by Sanoma Media Finland, part of the Sanoma Group.