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European Court urged to grant appeal hearing to Finnish photojournalist

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) have joined their affiliate, the Union of Journalists in Finland (UJF), to call on the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to grant an appeal hearing of the case brought by photojournalist and UJF member Markus Pentikäinen relating to the violation of his freedom of expression.

The case concerns Pentikäinen's prosecution and conviction in Finland for allegedly defying police orders when they attempted to clear a demonstration against the Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) in 2006.

Pentikäinen was covering the protest for the Finnish magazine Suomen Kuvalehti. Instead of being treated as press, he was arrested along with scores of demonstrators when the police moved in to break up the protest.

Pentikäinen had made it clear to the police that he was covering the protest as a photojournalist, and had his press card clearly visible. Subsequent court records show that the police identified him as a photographer covering the protest, and apparently targeted him as such.

Pentikäinen was not only arrested but was held in detention for over 17 hours. He was charged with disobeying police orders. He was convicted by the District Court in Helsinki in 2007. In 2009 the Supreme Court in Finland dismissed his right to appeal, though ambiguously he was given no penalty or criminal record.

Pentikäinen took Finland to the ECHR for breaching Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, covering the right to freedom of expression.

A 5-2 majority of the panel of judges found that there had been no violation of freedom of expression.

It argued that journalists enjoyed no special status in the face of police orders at the protest. The majority of the panel also considered Pentikäinen as a protestor not representative of the press, and stated that he did not have sufficient press ID, though the police were clearly able to identify him as press. The court considered that Finland was entitled to its own powers of discretion in weighing freedom of speech with respect to police powers.

“We join our affiliates, the Union of Journalists in Finland, in supporting Markus Pentikäinen's right of appeal to the ECHR's Grand Chamber against the verdict of its lower chamber,” said IFJ President Jim Boumelha. “The case is the latest example of state authorities taking actions that undermine the rights and freedoms of press.”

The UJF says the Parliamentary Ombudsman in Finland has commendably asserted that the police must take account of the role of the press in monitoring the how power is exercised.

The IFJ and the EFJ have joined UJF in expressing their hope that the ECHR will respond by granting Markus Pentikäinen's right of appeal, and that organisations championing press freedom will petition the ECHR on the matter.

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