(Oct. 16, 2020) On September 22, 2020, the Finnish Supreme Court ordered the dissolution of Nordiska Motståndsrörelsen (NMR) (Nordic Resistance Movement), an unregistered neo-Nazi association. The Supreme Court found that the association is unlawful because its activities and stated objectives violate law and good practice. It also found that the association’s activities are not protected under the right to freedom of speech because the purpose of the organization is to limit the constitutional freedoms of others, and that they have thereby abused the right to freedom of expression. (Finnish Sup. Ct., Sept. 22, 2020, HD 2020:68, ECLI:FI:KKO:2020:68 (Sup. Ct. Decision).)
Freedom of speech and association are constitutionally protected in Finland under articles 12 and 13 of the Constitution. These rights are also protected in articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms Rights (ECHR), to which Finland is a party. However, these rights are not absolute; articles 12 and 13 of the Finnish Constitution allow for limits on these rights as further promulgated in law.
Associations are regulated by the Associations Act (Föreningslag (FFS 26.5.1989/503)), which specifically requires in section 1 that associations “must not violate law or good practice.” In accordance with section 43 of the Act, a court may, following a petition from the police, order an association to be dissolved if, through its actions or purposes, it substantially violates law or good practice.
The NMR is an unregistered association with the undisputed aim of “national socialism, restriction of freedom of expression and the transformation of representative democracy in order for the association and its representatives to be in power.” In addition, it has expressed a goal of “interfering quite strongly in other people’s freedom of association and activity.” The means by which these goals are to be obtained is, according to the NMR’s website, “struggle and aggression, and a war to secede Finland from the EU if war is necessary to protect Northern Freedom.” The association also exists in other Nordic countries, such as Sweden and Norway, as well as in Russia. (Sup. Ct. Decision ¶ 17.)
The association has been temporarily prohibited from operating in Finland since 2018, following a 2017 request from the Finnish police. The District Court of Pirkanmaa, and then the Turku Court of Appeals, both found that the association should be dissolved and deemed illegal. The Supreme Court granted leave to hear the case in 2019 and simultaneously ordered the prohibition on the NMR’s activities to continue.
Judgement in the Case
In its recent decision the Court noted that
Article 11 of the [ECHR], according to its wording, guarantees only the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. According to the positions of the [Finnish Parliamentary] Committee on Constitutional Affairs, illegal activities aimed at promoting or supporting crime, for example, do not constitute the exercise of the freedom of association guaranteed in Article 13 of the Constitution (PeVL 7/2002 vp p. 3 and PeVL 10/2000 vp p. 3).” (Sup. Ct. Decision ¶ 15, emphasis by author.)
The Court went on to note that “[t]he Committee on Constitutional Affairs, for its part, has mentioned that the criminalization of incitement against a group of people is a socially overriding purpose of combating racism, on the basis of which freedom of association may be restricted.” (Sup. Ct. Decision ¶ 31.)
The Supreme Court found that based on the violent nature and expressed unlawful purpose of the association, which included limiting the human rights of others, the association violated the requirements in section 43 of the Associations Act. In addition, the Court found that the association does not enjoy a legal right to the civil liberties guaranteed in the Constitution, as the association itself does not respect these rights held by others, but uses these rights for illegal purposes and to advocate to limit and remove these rights from others with the purpose of subjugating them. The Supreme Court determined that the use of violence is at least a tacitly accepted course of action in the NMR, noting prior assault convictions against the directors of the association. Other atrocities associated with the activities of the NMR include illegal use of free speech by spreading hate speech, including propaganda against Jews, immigrants, and other minorities. (Sup. Ct. Decision ¶¶ 22, 32, 36, 41.)
This is reportedly the first time since the 1970s that an association has effectively been prohibited in Finland.