The Great Escape! - campaigning in support of a total objector in Finland

IssueDecember 2001 - February 2002
Feature by Simo Hellsten

On 23 August a Finnish antimilitarist civil disobedience group - The Wall Breakers - symbolically attempted to rescue a total objector from prison.

As part of a small support demonstration at the Katajanokka prison, one of the group threw a rope over the prison wall while two others started digging a tunnel under it. The digging went on for half an hour until the police ended the performance. No arrests were made, though it is possible that indictments might follow.

The man on the other side of the wall was a Finnish total objector, Antti Rautiainen. At the time he was serving a 59-day sentence resulting from several unpaid fines - which had been imposed for refusing to attend call-ups - converted to a prison sentence. So far Rautiainen has failed to attend call-ups on ten occasions during the past four years, but he has still a long way to go.

Although refusing to attend call-ups is the most consistent way of resisting general conscription, objectors like Rautiainen face years and years of repeated sentences: a package of fines and a new call- up date. In Finland it is impossible to declare total objection without first going through the call-up- procedure. Thus there is no way to refuse military service without first being assigned a “service-class” according to one's physical fitness. And in the end total objectors who refuse to attend any call-ups get the same 197-day sentence as all the other total objectors in Finland.

Call-up-objecting (refusing to attend any of your call-ups for military service) is, however, a marginal phenomenon amongst total objectors in Finland. Since the current periods of military service were imposed in 1997 the number of total objectors has quadrupled, with more than 50 total objectors tried in the courts every year. To date 22 of them have been adopted by Amnesty International as prisoners of conscience and while little progress has been made to solve the issues so far, the campaigning continues...