Freedom for Finnish political prisoners!
-demonstrations outside Finnish Embassies in several countries
Action Photos, Brussels
On 1st December 2003, human rights and peace groups in several different countries took action outside Finnish Embassies and Consulates to demand the immediate release of political prisoners of Finland. Every year in Finland more than 60 conscientious objectors (CO) are sentenced to 6,5 months of imprisonment because of their refusal to take part in the conscription system. 1st December marks the International Peace Prisoners' Day, launched by the War Resisters International in 1956.
Protests took place at Finnish Embassies and Consulates in Belgium (Brussels), France (Paris), the Netherlands (Den Haag), England (London), Scotland (Edinburgh) and Sweden (Stockholm and Gothenburg).
There is still a very extensive conscription system in Finland. Young men have a choice between military and alternative service, but there are many problems with the system. The length of the alternative service (13 months) is clearly punitive compared to the military service (6 months), the conscripts mostly do not receive information about alternative service during the call-up, and the alternative service places often ignore their economic obligations towards the servant. Also, in Finnish law there is no status for COs during crisis time. This means that people who never received military training might be obliged to serve in the army during a war.
The right to conscientious objection is recognised by the United Nations and the European Union, as well as in different human rights declarations. Still the Finnish government fails to respect the human rights of the COs, and systematically imprisons everyone who refuses to take part in the conscription system.
Since 1999 Amnesty International has adopted 45 Finnish COs as prisoners of conscience. According to the organisation Finland is the only country in the European Union where there are prisoners of conscience.
"The Finnish state, as well as other states in the world, must release all prisoners of conscience immediately. Those sentenced must be given amnesty", states the spokesperson of For Mother Earth. "To prevent breaches of the human rights of the COs in the future, Finland must change their legislation so that the alternatives to military service include no service at all and non-violent service. The right to conscientious objection must be recognised universally, including crisis- or wartime, and all people must be treated equally no matter what their reason for conscientious objection is."
In October 2001, Finnish CO Jussi Hermaja fled to Belgium to seek asylum after being sentenced to 197 days of imprisonment. His appeal will be heard in the high court of Belgium (Raad van Staat) on January 14th 2004. He has also appealed against his sentence in the European Court of Human Rights.
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