No Justice for Animals

This past year, the big American agribusiness tried a novel new way to prevent the nation from seeing the truth about its factory farms -- four states introduced bills that would've made all undercover filming of animals inside them illegal. All four attempts failed.

Now, Finland has brought its own Kafkaesque twist to such efforts.

In December 2009, Finnish media outlets stunned the nation by publishing disturbing video and photographs from inside 30 pig factory farms, the result of a two-month undercover investigation by the leading Finnish animal rights group, Justice for Animals. You can see the images and videos here.

Sights of injured, dead, and dying pigs outraged a country whose factory farmers had always touted their "humane" practices. Members of Parliament and even agribusiness representatives condemned what they saw. Police investigations were promised. There were even calls for the Minister of Agriculture to resign (she didn't).

Now, almost two years later, the events have taken a truly incredible turn.

Instead of charging a single pig factory farmer with cruelty to animals, Finnish authorities are prosecuting the two activists who made the undercover videos, Karry Hedberg and Saila Kivelä. The charges are "aggravated defamation" of the nation's pig farmers and "disturbing the peace."

What makes this prosecution so startling is that not one person has disputed the authenticity of the images, nor claimed that the filming involved break-ins or property damage of any kind. In fact, by their own admission, none of the pig farmers were even aware that any activists had been to their farms until the videos were made public.

But the logic of this prosecution -- at least to Finnish authorities -- is clear: the conditions at the pig farms, while accurately recorded, are in themselves legal, therefore making their exposure illegal and defamatory.

In an unprecedented move, prosecutors are also seeking actual prison time for Hedberg, and demanding that he and Kivelä pay 180,000 euros in damages. Just how unusual is this? To contrast: a recent tear gas attack on a gay rights march in Helsinki that left 88 people injured resulted in only four-month probationary sentences for the three assailants -- a disgrace in itself.

The record of Finnish courts safeguarding the rights of animal activists leaves much to be desired. In 1997, a shotgun-wielding fur farmer received only an 18-month probationary sentence after shooting and wounding three young activists -- one of them critically -- for trespassing on his farm. In addition to bullet wounds, activists also received four-month probationary sentences for breaking two locks at the farm.

The matter of Justice for Animals and their undercover investigation comes before the Finland Proper District Court next month.

We'll see what passes for justice for activists this time.

As for the animals, we already know.