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Court of appeal upholds "police obstruction" conviction against photojournalist

(IFJ/IFEX) - 5 May 2009 - The International Federation of Journalists and its regional group, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), today condemned the decision of the Helsinki Court of Appeal in Finland against a photographer who took pictures of a protest demonstration during the Asia-Europe trade summit meeting in Helsinki on September 9, 2006.

On the eve of the World Press Freedom Day 2009, the Helsinki Court of Appeal in Finland on April 30, confirmed the conviction by Helsinki District Court in December 2007 against staff photographer Markus Pentikäinen of the Finnish weekly Suomen Kuvalehti who refused police orders to move away from the scene, insisting on his right as a journalist to be on the spot and take pictures.

According to the court of appeal, the police had grounds to limit the journalist's freedom of expression in the way they did. The District court had convicted Pentikäinen but did not hand down any sentence because, in the court's opinion, he was covering the event out of a professional obligation that led him to ignore police orders.

"This is an appalling decision in a country that enjoys one of the highest standards regarding press freedom. It goes against Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights," said EFJ President Arne König. "When a journalist is doing his or her work during a demonstration that becomes violent, it cannot be that he or she is regarded as acting against the public interest and brought to trial, when they are only doing their job."

"A journalist's work has been declared criminal, because a police officer told the journalist to turn his back. This is a remarkable precedent in limiting press freedoms and freedom of expression in Finland," said Arto Nieminen, Chair of the Union of Journalists in Finland.

The journalist's employer and the Finnish Union say that if needed they will appeal over the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

The EFJ represents over 250,000 journalists in 32 countries.

Updates the Pentikäinen case:

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