Appeals Court cuts sentence for pro-Kremlin activist involved in online hate campaign

The court found that while Johan Bäckman had been involved with a far-right website's campaign of intimidation against a Finnish journalist, he hadn't personally attacked her.

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File photo of judge holding documents / Credit: iStock

The Helsinki Appeals Court has reduced a sentence for a Finnish academic convicted for his part in a sustained hate campaign against a journalist, deciding that he had not personally slandered the victim.

In October 2018 the founder of far right newspaper MV-Lehti Ilja Janitskin, who was known for publishing racist writings at the online site; and pro-Kremlin propagandist Johan Bäckman were between them found guilty of 16 charges of stalking, aggravated defamation, and inciting others to aggravated defamation against journalist Jessikka Aro.

Janitskin died in February this year from bowel cancer, but the Appeals Court case brought by Bäckman’s legal team continued.

On Tuesday afternoon the court upheld Bäckman’s 2018 conviction for inciting MV-Lehti to publish offensive stories about Aro; however it quashed his convictions for stalking and slander and reduced the original 12-month suspended sentence down to three months.

Aro became the target of pro-Kremlin campaigners after an investigation she carried out about Russian ‘troll farms’ in St. Petersburg was published. The story shone a light on Russian efforts in hybrid warfare operations to influence social media discussions and inflame rhetoric to the Kremlin’s advantage.

MV-Lehti was one of the loudest abusive voices online against Aro, with Janitskin publishing an old court document showing a 2002 conviction she had for minor crimes. The court found that MV-Lehti had been given the document by Bäckman, and that there was no public interest defence for publishing it.