The Finnish Prosecutor's Office announced on Wednesday the start of an investigation into the use by Helsinki police of pepper spray to break up a peaceful protest by climate activists.
Special Prosecutor Heidi Savurinne, who is also Director of Investigation of Police Crimes, has decided to open a preliminary investigation into the activities of the police in connection with the demonstration held by the movement Extinction Rebellion Finland (Elokapina, in Finnish) on Saturday 3 October, the Prosecutor's office said in a statement.
The events occurred after a group of protesters belonging to the organization blocked Kaisaniemenkatu, a major street in central Helsinki. They demanded the declaration of a state of climatic emergency in Finland. Faced with their resistance to leaving the area, the police decided to use force measures to disperse them. 51 people were arrested.
The images posted on Twitter by the group's members sparked a heated controversy in Finland over whether the police response was proportionate to the protesters' behavior.
Respect #elokapina activists, you give me hope. Shame @HelsinkiPoliisi: is this what democracy is to you? @SuomenPoliisi is this how you protect the safety of the people? This is police violence and yes this is Finland #poliisiväkivalta pic.twitter.com/uRkibRyRhH— Sini Saarela (@SiniSaarela) October 4, 2020
Suspected breach of duty
According to the Prosecutor's office, the preliminary investigation will look into the "grounds and legality" of the use of force by the police against the protesters. At this stage, the suspected criminal offence is a breach of duty by the officers at the scene. Any other possible criminal titles will be clarified during the investigation.
Deputy Prosecutor General Jukka Rappe will be in charge of the case.
On Thursday, October 8, the National Police Board issued a report on the events at the request of the Ministry of the Interior.
According to the police account, the officer leading the operation approved the use of pepper spray as the mildest means of force available to disperse the crowd.
Police said the spray application was limited to a designated group of demonstrators and that they had warned the protesters, giving them five minutes to leave the lane.
On Wednesday, the Helsinki Police Department wrote on Twitter that the investigated officers will continue on duty.