Helsinki Court of Appeal gave today a verdict in a court case related to freedom of expression. Jussi Halla-aho, a blogger who mainly writes about immigration (critically), was fined 330 euros for "breach of religious peace", as a year-old sentence of the Helsinki District Court was largely upheld by the court.
Enough of Halla-aho's case has been written (at least in the Finnish blogosphere) so I won't delve in it any further. What makes the Helsinki Court of Appeal a true court jester is the verdict which requires Halla-aho to now remove two paragraphs from his blog. Mistake:
Once it is published, it cannot be recalled
Once someone puts something in the Internet and a few other people are interested enough to care, there's no way to remove it. It just can't be done. Of course, Halla-aho could edit one particular instance of a Web page that he maintains, but that's just one page. Looking at Google as of today, I get about 2250 hits for exact replicas of Halla-aho's offending sentences. Why are these replicas there? Because of the court case, lots of sites have copied the text. Without the court case, few would have bothered. I mean, what Halla-aho publishes is not badly written but it is a little bit repetitive, and most people would not have bothered.
So, by now, thousands of Web pages are replicating what Halla-aho wrote. This is impressive, considering that it is in Finnish, a rather obscure language in the net world. Some of the sites are clearly islamophobic, some are generally interested in immigration, many focus on freedom of speech, some just like to observe and occasionally provoke a good fight.
What the court could realistically do is threaten to lock up anyone who is caught publishing those sentences, or uttering them in public, and try to enforce it in the Finnish jurisdiction. The court could perhaps issue an order to behead anyone who re-publishes these insults to Islam. This just might be reasonably expected from the Helsinki Court of Appeal. But take out sentences from a blog, to remove insulting phrases from Internet? Delusional. And decidedly counter-productive. Just a hint of censorship will ensure that lots of people will want to copy and re-publish the stuff.
Once the genie is out of the bottle, it doesn't go back in. If you ever put anything in the Web, it won't be possible to remove it; there will be countless copies around the world if the material is in any way interesting to anyone and is linked somewhere. And starting a process at a court of law, trying to censor the Internet, is a dead-sure way to accelerate replicating that page in the net. It's really an invitation to spread the word.
Mika Illman, the state prosecutor who was the real target of Halla-aho's provocation, would have been very wise to just observe the criticism against him, and if it was too much to bear, resign, because if he can't stand it, he's not fit for the job.
Halla-aho's case will surely continue in the Supreme Court and after that probably in the European Court of Human Rights, which is going to be the first level of courts of law that isn't already thoroughly offended by Halla-aho's provocation, and which will of course also provide an international platform where this storm in a teacup can reach new heights. What the Helsinki District Court and Helsinki Court of Appeal have now achieved is make hundreds of thousands of people aware of what was written about Islam's Prophet. This isn't exactly the way to ease up the relationship between religious groups. Jussi Halla-aho provokes people because he wants to, it's his mission. Mika Illman, his colleagues and the Helsinki courts do it because they don't know any better.