A Finnish court has sentenced Ilja Janitskin – the founder of a pro-Russian website – to 22 months in prison on charges of cyber-harassment of an investigative journalist following her reporting on online Russian propaganda.
A second man, Johan Bäckman who also works at online portal MV-Lehti was also given a 12-month suspended prison sentence.
The two men, who subjected journalist Jessikka Aro to cyber-harassment, were also ordered to pay €90,000 in damages.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) hailed the trial of the two pro-Kremlin activists in Helsinki on charges of harassing and defaming Aro, who has been researching the activities of Kremlin trolls and their attempts to manipulate Finnish public opinion since 2014.
“We welcome this trial, which is all the more emblematic because many reporters continue to be the target of troll armies seeking to discourage or even silence the journalists who cover them,” RSF said.
“As the two suspects have been clearly identified, we count on the Finnish judicial system to ensure that this is an exemplary trial and that it sends a clear message to those who harass journalists online.”
Aro’s lawyer Martina Kronström told RSF she hoped that the sentences passed by the court would serve to “dissuade all those who might be tempted to carry out this kind of online hate campaign.”
For the past four years, Aro was insulted, defamed and parodied in videos in major hate and smear campaigns on social networks with the aim of silencing her investigative reporting on pro-Kremlin trolls’ attempts to influence Finnish public opinion.
MV-Lehti is a well-known right-wing, anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic, pro-Russian publication.
Aro is a reporter for the Finnish national broadcaster YLE and after she began investigating the existence of pro-Russian troll factories in 2014, MV-Lehti published disparaging stories about her, including an article accusing her of being a drug addict.
Aro received death threats, was mocked on YouTube, was the subject of insulting memes and personal information including her address, medical records, contact details and whereabouts was published online.