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Two chief superintendents acted unlawfully in arresting demonstrators

Deputy-Ombudsman Pajuoja has drawn the serious attention of two chief superintendents with the Itä-Uusimaa police division to the necessity of giving careful consideration to the grounds on which arrests are made.

He has issued reprimands to them for having acted unlawfully in arresting persons who took part in a demonstration arranged by the environmental organisation Greenpeace at the Neste refinery in Kilpilahti, Porvoo.

Events in Porvoo

Greenpeace organised a demonstration and a boat operation at Neste’s Porvoo refinery in 2007. The purpose was to oppose the use of palm oil to manufacture bio diesel. Some of the persons gathered at the main gate of the refinery to demonstrate by handing out bulletins to refinery workers. Others were in boats and on the shore in the sea area close to the refinery. In the perception of the police, the common purpose of the persons who had come to Porvoo was to stop a palm oil tanker arriving at the refinery.

The police ordered the demonstrators to move to a nearby school from the restricted refinery area. Some time later, another chief superintendent, who had been in general charge, ordered the arrest, on suspicion of compellence, of everyone in both the school and the sea area. 

The Gulf of Finland Coast Guard, from which the police had requested executive assistance, tried to stop the persons in inflatable boats at sea. The persons steering the boats refused to obey the Coast Guard’s orders to stop, and the Coast Guard managed to get the boats stopped only several hours later by using pepper spray.

Chief superintendent ordered the arrest of demonstrators

When the chief superintendent concluded that there was reason to suspect that the obvious purpose of the persons in the sea area was to interrupt the passage of the oil tanker, he acted, in Deputy-Ombudsman Pajuoja’s view, within the framework of his discretionary power. 

By contrast, the Deputy-Ombudsman did not see any legally acceptable grounds to suspect that the demonstrators who had been moved to the nearby school were committing crimes. They had not used violence nor made threats. They merely presented their opinion opposing the use of palm oil by distributing bulletins and displaying banners. The chief superintendent exceeded his discretionary power when he ordered that they be arrested and interrogated.

On the other hand, there was no reason to criticise the chief superintendent’s decision to move the demonstrators from the main gate of the refinery to the school.

Was it necessary to keep all of the persons under arrest until the following day?

When responsibility for the investigation was passed to the second chief superintendent that evening, responsibility for examining the justification for the arrests and for continuing deprivation of liberty was also assumed by him. Therefore he should have assessed with respect to every arrested person whether there were grounds to suspect compellence or other offences and whether continuing deprivation of liberty was unreasonable.

The Deputy-Ombudsman considers it problematic that the arrested persons were dealt with as a single group, although the role played by those arrested in the school was quite different from that played by those arrested in the sea area. They had originally been arrested without ground, but despite that also they had to remain in the police station until the following day.

The Deputy-Ombudsman criticised the actions of the police also in some other respects. He found no reason to criticise the actions of the Gulf of Finland Coast Guard.

Additional info will be provided by Notary Piatta Skottman-Kivelä, tel. + 359(0)9 432 3395