Finnish court jails pro-Russian website founder
A court in Finland has sentenced the founder of a pro-Russian website to 22 months in jail on charges of defamation and negligence.
In a major ruling that exceeded prosecutors’ requests, MV-Lehti was deemed to have published libellous remarks about Jessikka Aro (pictured), an investigative journalist.
Website founder Ilja Janitskin and two colleagues were ordered to pay €136,000 in compensation.
Janitskin received a 22-month prison sentence after being found guilty of 16 charges, including defamation.
Aro faced online abuse after reporting on online Russian propaganda, in part from MV-Lehti, an anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic, pro-Russian website.
Aro works for national broadcaster YLE and in 2014 began investigating pro-Russian troll factories, leading to a series of libellous MV-Lehti stories, including one claiming she was a drug addict.
She noticed a pattern of fake profiles on Facebook, Vkontakte, Twitter and wanted to explore the impact these were having on Finland’s social-media users.
Aro uncovered evidence of a state-sanctioned propaganda machine pushing a pro-Russian agenda through automated bot accounts and networks on Twitter.
The abuse stepped up after Aro interviewed staff at a “troll factory” in St Petersburg, where tech-employees were paid to circulate fake news and rumours on social media. She was one of the first reporters to cover the pro-Russian abuse depots.
Aro even received a text message from someone pretending to be her father, who had died several years earlier.
Russia denies the trolling charges.
The reporter received numerous death threats and online mockery. Her address, medical records and contact details exposed online. Her location was tracked and revealed.
Photos of her dancing in a Thai nightclub were published, alongside offensive comments.
Aro continued to report on Russia’s “troll farms” and online disinformation campaigns, winning Finland’s 2016 Grand Prize for Journalism.
“I was hoping maybe this will end, but it just got worse and worse and worse,” Aro told the media. “Even my own friends started liking and commenting on these filth pieces about me.”
Johan Bäckman, a long-time mouthpiece for Moscow in Finland and a researcher at MV-Lehti who repeatedly threatened the reporter, was given a one-year suspended sentence for gross negligence.
The court said Bäckman encouraged others online to target Aro and the harassment deeply affected her quality of life, according to the YLE report.
Jessikka Aro. Picture credit: Wikimedia