Full disclosure, I consider Jessikka Aro a friend.
Jessikka is, without a doubt, one of the most courageous people I have ever met.
This whole thing started for me when I reviewed an article she had written. This is What Pro-Russia Internet Propaganda Feels Like – Finns Have Been Tricked into Believing in Lies . After this review, the Finnish pro-Kremlin trolls began writing stories about me, attacking me and further smearing Jessikka. This lead me to write a few more articles about MV-lehti and the two defendants in this trial, Ilja Janitskin and Johan Bäckman. This lead to more and more animosity. And threats. I, however, could turn off the computer and sleep at night. Jessikka was hounded at home, at work, on the computer, even as far away as in Southeast Asia and all over Europe. There was no escape for her.
Finally, after years of harassment, Jessikka is getting justice. Make no mistake, Ilja Janitskin and Johan Bäckman are bad men. I would not be an acceptable juror because I hope they rot in jail for what they’ve done to this extraordinary woman. As a result of this article I know they will begin harassing me, yet again. For Jessikka, however, it never stops.
June 20, 2018
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) hails the trial of two pro-Kremlin activists in Helsinki on charges of harassing and defaming Jessikka Aro, an investigative reporter who has been researching the activities of Kremlin trolls and their attempts to manipulate Finnish public opinion since 2014.
For the past four years, Jessikka Aro has been 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 the Finnish public opinion.
For the first time this week, two of the people responsible for these online campaigns are being tried on criminal charges of stalking, aggravated defamation and “encouragement to aggravated defamation.”
One is Ilja Janitskin, the founder of MV Lehti, a website known for attacking critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He is facing a possible 14-month prison sentence for posting countless memes and fake stories attacking Aro, as well as producing other hate content designed to discredit her in various ways including portraying her as a drug dealer.
The other is Johan Bäckman, another Putin fan linked to pro-Kremlin groups who has repeatedly smeared and defamed Aro on Twitter and Facebook. Claiming to be a human rights defender, he has accused her of being a “well-known assistant of American and Baltic special services” and of writing her stories under the influence of drugs. The prosecution is asking the court to give him an eight-month sentence.
“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.”
Finland is ranked 4th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index. However this European Union member state, which shares 1,340 km of border with Russia, has a very active network of pro-Putin trolls and journalists are often harassed online.