Covering events from January-December 2001

Republic of Finland
Head of state: Tarja Halonen
Head of government: Paavo Lipponen
Capital: Helsinki
Population: 5.2 million
Official languages: Finnish, Swedish
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes

Eleven imprisoned conscientious objectors to national service legislation were considered prisoners of conscience. There were allegations of discriminatory treatment by the police.

Conscientious objection

Under the 1998 Military Service Law, the length of alternative civilian service remained punitive. All conscientious objectors were required to perform 395 days of alternative civilian service; most recruits who perform military service serve for 180 days. Most conscientious objectors who refused to perform alternative service were sentenced to 197 days' imprisonment. The Ministers of Labour and of Foreign Affairs stated that their ministries would continue to work for a reduction in the length of alternative civilian service. However, the Minister of Defence restated his commitment to maintaining the status quo.

Prisoners of conscience

Eleven conscientious objectors became prisoners of conscience during 2001. All were convicted of a "non-military service crime" and most of them were sentenced to 197 days' imprisonment. The majority refused alternative service because of its discriminatory length. Some were total objectors who held pacifist convictions.

Allegations of racism

There was concern about reports of racism and discriminatory practices by police towards Somali nationals in Hakunila in the city of Vantaa.

  • Farah Muhamed, a refugee from Somalia, was sentenced to four years' imprisonment on 5 January by Vantaa District Court. He was convicted of attempted manslaughter after an incident in September 2000 in which the car he was driving hit and ran over a white man. Farah Muhamed claimed that his conviction was the result of racist and prejudicial behaviour by the police during the course of their investigations. He stated that the incident happened when he panicked while trying to escape from a gang of white men who were charging at his car wielding a baseball bat and an axe. There were reports that the investigating police had ignored evidence and eyewitness accounts of the incident. On appeal, Farah Muhamed's sentence was reduced to two and a half years' imprisonment. A further appeal was lodged with the Supreme Court. Farah Muhamed was released on 19 December 2001.
AI country reports/visits

  • Concerns in Europe, January-June 2001: Finland (AI Index: EUR 01/003/2001)

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