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Pro-Kremlin trolls found guilty of harassment in Finland

Rebecca Staudenmaier
October 18, 2018

In a major ruling that exceeded prosecutors' requests, a court in Finland sentenced a man to prison for harassing journalist Jessikka Aro. She had been targeted for years by pro-Russian trolls over her reporting.

Finnish journalist Jessikka Aro
Image: Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE

A Finnish man was sentenced to over a year in prison on Thursday for defaming and harassing investigative journalist Jessikka Aro, who works for Finnish public broadcaster YLE.

Ilja Janitskin, the founder of the right-wing, pro-Kremlin website MV-Lehti, was handed a 22-month prison sentence after being found guilty of 16 charges, including defamation.

Johan Backman, a longtime mouthpiece for Moscow in Finland, was also found guilty of defamation and harassing and received a one-year suspended sentence.

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In its decision, the court said that Backman encouraged others online to target Aro and that the subsequent harassment deeply impacted her quality of life, reported YLE.

A female employee at MV-Lehti was also given a three-month suspended sentence.

The court ordered the defendants to pay €136,000 ($155,000) in damages, which will be distributed to Aro and two other victims.

Thursday's court ruling was viewed as a major win against online hate speech in Finland and exceeded the sentences requested by prosecutors.

Years of harassment

Aro became the subject of a multiyear harassment campaign by pro-Russian trolls after she began reporting in 2014 on Russian propaganda and disinformation that was being spread in Finland on social media.

The backlash against her particularly ramped up after she interviewed workers at a "troll factory" in St. Petersburg, Russia, where people were paid to circulate fake stories on social media. She was one of the first people to report on the existence of pro-Russian "troll factories."

In the four years that followed, her personal information was published online, her location was tracked and she received numerous death threats. She even received a text from someone pretending to be her father, who had passed away several years earlier.

"I was hoping maybe this will end, but it just got worse and worse and worse," Aro told DW prior to the verdict. "Even my own friends started liking and commenting these filth pieces about me, so I noticed that it really has influence."

Many of the negative stories about Aro were published by MV-Lehti, including one that accused her of being a drug addict.

Aro continued to report on Russian "troll farms" and disinformation campaigns, and won Finland's Grand Prize for Journalism in 2016.

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