An article from Do or Die Issue 9. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 58-59.
The public reaction to the new forms of activism has been very hostile. In newspaper editorials animal rights activists have been compared to Hell's Angels, Satan worshippers, Nazis and drug dealers. In parliament, some representatives have demanded removing social security benefits from activists, banning their newsletters and increasing their sentences. In addition to the media and the politicians, one other main proponent of this demonisation of activists has been SUPO, the state security police. According to SUPO, animal rights activists are one of the main threats to state security nowadays. These claims, plus the influence of the European Union, led to the formation of JOUHA, the specialist riot police force that has been practising on us 'carrot-biters' especially at fur auction demos. In addition to this, the 'regular' police have pushed their powers to the limit by banning leafletting in front of shops, conducting illegal searches and confiscations after major sabotage actions and holding activists in custody for longer and longer periods. For activists in the UK or USA this may not sound too alarming. But these steps are a big change in Finland, and go against traditionally very wide rights of protest, opinion and gathering.
The problem for the state and the relief for activists has been that the current laws are not up to these new developments. Many Finnish laws that have been applied to squatting, demonstrations, occupations and liberation raids are so old that they still refer to the Russian Emperor! Thus the police and the courts have been able to come up with 'interesting' charges and sentences. However, until now, nearly all of these hard sentences have been revoked or lessened in higher courts. Thus the recent drive for modernising the law and formalising recent police practices into law.
This February the new criminal code was discussed in parliament, and the results seem grim. The object of the new code sounds nice enough: we need coherent legislation to deal with several issues, such as breach of the peace. Thus far there has been only one law; a law against the breach of domestic peace, that has been applied very widely. Now a new law against trespass on private property and covert surveillance is being prepared.
The definitions of illegal trespass and breach of domestic peace have both been widened so that together they now cover corporate offices, abandoned buildings, production facilities (fur farms, for example, would now be considered domestic areas), and public institutions such as dole offices. In addition to this the punishments will be harder. In effect this new law will make it harder to organise anti-corporate demonstrations, squats, demos at parliament, occupations of public institutions, and even old-fashioned strikes. (The Finnish labour movement hasn't even bothered to notice the new legislation.) Jail sentences will become more common: even an attempted fur farm raid would automatically amount to 2-3 years in jail. This might not sound so bad if you are used to 5-15 years sentences, but so far in Finland we have had NO prisoners from liberation or sabotage actions, even though many people have been prosecuted.
The new 'Law on Criminal Organisations' is one of the blessings of EU-membership, and has been easy to feed to the Finnish public. Officially the law is meant to be used to combat drug trafficking, violent crime, counterfeiting, etc. But since the definition of the law - three or more people planning and committing crimes that could amount to at least 4 years in jail - is so wide, it would also cover sabotage actions and 'organising' riots such as the Black and Green Days a few years ago. Also supporters' groups might be targetted.
Time will tell when we get our first Gandalf trials..
1) One such search was carried out in December 1997 at the offices of Muutoksen kevät after the shooting and wounding of activists at a fur farm in Orimattila. The police have been charged with breaches of police powers and many other counts, but the case has currently ground to a halt.
2) Covering offences such as activists secretly filming fur farms, for example.
This piece was based on articles published in the excellent (Finnish-language) eco-revolutionary magazine Muutoksen kevät. For more information contact:
Muutoksen kevät, PL 847, 33101 Tampere, Finland.