Harassment accusations rattle Finnish parliament, media

Jarmo Vähäkainu, the second vice-chair of the populist and nationalist Power Belongs to the People (VKK) party, published a picture of the Green Party vice-chair Iiris Suomela sitting in the parliament cafeteria wearing a short dress on social media. [Shutterstock/Aija Lehtonen]

A sexual harassment row broke out in Finland’s parliament on Thursday, causing ripples throughout politics and society.

Jarmo Vähäkainu, the second vice-chair of the populist and nationalist Power Belongs to the People (VKK) party, published a picture of the Green Party vice-chair Iiris Suomela sitting in the parliament cafeteria wearing a short dress on social media.

Vähäkainu, in a clumsy attempt to be humorous, compared dressing up like that to sexual harassment. Suomela found this to be an invasion of privacy and a form of harassment.

Speaking to the Finnish News Agency (STT), the parliament’s Information and Communication Director Rainer Hindsberg confirmed that the matter had been investigated and “further actions will be decided within days.”

Vähäkainu, who took the picture, is not a member of the parliament. Rules concerning the parliament cafeteria not being open to the general public are clear. Panorama pictures before and after plenary sessions are allowed, but filming individuals requires permission. A new regulation under consideration may alter the right to enter and move around the parliament without an escort.

However, the Speaker of the parliament, Matti Vanhanen, commented to Iltalehti that banning someone from “entering the sanctuary of open democracy” would not be simple.

Traditionally, Finnish media has respected politicians’ privacy, but times are changing. Earlier in June, Seiska magazine published a photo of Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s bottom and caused uproar. When pictures of the four-year-old son of President Sauli Niinistö watching a sports competition were published across the media, the president and his spouse pleaded for such pictures not to be taken. The Council for Mass Media (CMM) informed on Thursday that it is considering the case and its implications.

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