Freedom in the World
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Finland’s parliamentary system features free and fair elections and robust multiparty competition. Corruption is not a significant problem, and freedoms of speech, religion, and association are respected. The judiciary is independent under the constitution and in practice. Women enjoy equal rights, as do citizens from ethnic minority groups, though harassment and hate speech aimed at minority groups do occur.
- In February, the parliament passed a law allowing same-sex marriage.
- In July, after a year of negotiations between trade unions, employer organizations, and government officials, the participants agreed to cut worker benefits and temporarily freeze wages in a bid to improve the country’s economic competitiveness.
- A new law that took effect in September made the country’s asylum policies more restrictive, for instance by reducing the time limit for appealing rejected applications.
- A regional politician with the right-wing Finns Party was removed from her leadership position in April and fined in December for writing anti-Muslim social media posts.
Finland received only about 5,000 asylum applications in 2016, down from some 33,000 in 2015. As the number of new asylum seekers decreased, so did related hate crimes. Nevertheless, the government took some steps to tighten asylum laws during the year. Among other changes, the president signed legislation in August, to take effect in September, that reduced the time for appeals of rejected applications and limited the circumstances in which state-funded legal aid is provided.
In April, the first vice chair of the regional government in Pirkanmaa, Terhi Kiemunki of the Finns Party, was removed from her post over her anti-Muslim comments on Facebook. She requested a police investigation to clear her name, but in December she was found guilty of incitement against an ethnic group and ordered to pay a €450 ($500) fine. Amid other controversial posts by Finns Party lawmakers, party chairman Timo Soini in July urged members to think twice before making comments on social media. In November, the chair of the Finns Party Youth was charged with hate speech against Muslims; a trial was expected in early 2017.
The national broadcaster Yle participated in reporting in April on the so-called Panama Papers, a trove of leaked documents from a Panama-based law firm that revealed the widespread use of shell companies to avoid taxes and launder money. Several Finnish lawyers and businessmen were implicated. The Finnish tax authorities demanded that Yle hand over the leaked material, sparking a debate on press freedom and the confidentiality of journalistic sources. Yle refused to hand over the documents. Separately, in November, Prime Minister Juha Sipila faced criticism for a series of e-mail messages in which he appeared to pressure Yle reporters covering an alleged conflict of interest involving a company owned by his relatives.
This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Finland, see Freedom in the World 2016.