Helsinki Court Stops Pro-Kremlin Internet Trolls from Attacking Finnish Journalist

Earlier this week, three trolls connected to the pro-Russian defamation campaign against Finnish journalist Jessikka Aro were convicted by a Helsinki judge.

Aro has been the primary target of a massive defamation campaign since 2014, when she began reporting on the inner workings of the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency. The three individuals who were convicted were not rogue Russian operatives, but established voices in Finland.

This Saint Petersburg based agency, which has been called a troll farm, has been the focus of international attention since the 2016 US Presidential Election as Robert Mueller’s special counsel indicted thirteen Russians tied to the agency earlier this year.

Ilja Janitskin was the owner of MV-Lethi, a pro-Russian website that has also been affiliated with racism, hate-speech and fake news. Janitskin was given a 22 month sentence for 16 criminal counts.

Johan Backman, another prominent pro-Russian voice in Finland, was sentenced to jail for one year after being convicted of aggravated defamation and stalking. Backman served as the representative for the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies in Northern Europe until 2014, which was led by the former head of the Russian foreign intelligence.

The third person involved served jail time as well. Her name and exact sentence have been withheld, but it has been determined that she worked with Janitskin on his website. The three were further ordered to pay a total of $155,000 in damages in addition to court fees.

Backman and Janitskin both denied their involvement in any criminal acts against Aro and accused NATO of backing the Helsinki court where they were given their sentences.

In 2016, Aro formally filed a police complaint after MV-Lethi published a series of reports claiming that Aro was a convicted drug dealer, an American intelligence officer and an “unhinged bimbo driven by Russophobia.”

Finland continues to be one of Russia’s only non-NATO European neighbors, besides Belarus and Ukraine. Because of its 830 mile border with Russia and its western values, Finland has contributed to Russia’s paranoia about potentially joining NATO.

Press freedom in Finland has been affected by Russian reporting in recent months. In 2015, Linda Pelkonen, a Finnish journalist, wrote about the rape of a 14 year-old girl where the attacker happened to be a Finnish citizen with an immigrant background.

Pelkonen noted that it was unusual for the police to identify the attacker’s ethnicity. As a result, MV-Lethi led a smear campaign against her involving rape and death threats.

A survey published in 2017 by the Finland Journalists Union found that one in four journalists were victims of verbal harassment and physical threats.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Finland at the very top of their Press Freedom Index from 2013 to 2015. In 2017; however, Finland dropped to third and in 2018, placed in fourth.

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