Actions at Finnish Embassies and Consulates in several countries on the Prisoners for Peace day
Santa Claus and his helpers arrested at the Finnish Embassy in Brussels
Brussels, 1st December- Peace and human rights activists in different countries around the world are taking action today in support of Finnish conscientious objectors, imprisoned for their refusal to participate in the compulsory military conscription system. 1st December marks the international 'Prisoners for Peace' day, launched by the War Resisters International in 1956. This year the worldwide focus is Finland, the only EU-member state where Amnesty International says there are prisoners of conscience.
In Brussels activists of For Mother Earth, as well as the Finnish Santa Claus and his helpers, occupied the entrance hall of the Finnish Embassy building at 10:00. Santa and his helpers were preparing presents for the imprisoned Finnish conscientious objectors, while activists of For Mother Earth handed in a petition letter to a representative of the Embassy. The police soon arrived to briefly arrest Santa and his helpers, but released them once outside the Embassy building. The protest continued in the street outside the Embassy.
"I fear that Finnish President Tarja Halonen might have to celebrate her Christmas without presents if her government continues to imprison conscientious objectors", Santa stated at the Embassy in Brussels. "Locking up people who refuse to carry weapons doesn't fit well with the message of peace that I want to spread in the world. I advice Mrs. Halonen to let all the imprisoned consientious objectors go home in time for Christmas." Santa referred to the fact that the Finnish President has the power to grant an amnesty to prisoners, which so far has not been used.
At the moment 25 conscientious objectors (COs) are serving their sentences in Finnish prisons, and it is expected that by the end of this year over 70 COs will have been sentenced to jail in 2004 alone.
Finland still practices a very extensive military conscription, and continues to imprison conscientious objectors who refuse to participate in the system. 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.
Finland also practises discrimination on the bases of (non-)religious conviction: members of Jehova's Witnesses, a religious group, are automatically released from national service due to their religious conscience, while COs of other beliefs or ethical ideals are sentenced to prison.
According to Amnesty International, Finland is the only European Union state with prisoners of conscience. Since 1999 Amnesty International has adopted 49 Finnish COs as prisoners of conscience.
In addition, the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations stated in the beginning of November that Finland should rapidly make moves to comply with the Human Rights Declaration in regard to the treatment of conscientious objectors.
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.
Actions at Finnish Embassies and Consulates are taking place today in Belgium, Scotland, Malta and Ireland. In Finland the Union of COs is organising a debate about the issue, and in Belgium Santa and his helpers occupy the embassy to make presents for the imprisoned CO's. In other countries individuals and organisations join the action day by faxing petition letters to their local Finnish Embassies and the Finnish President. The organisations demand major reforms in Finnish conscription law as well as the immediate release of the 25 conscientious objectors currently serving their 197-days long sentences in Finnish prisons.
For more information: www.hermaja.org
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