Update of the situation 1.1.2020

On February 23, 2018, the Helsinki Court of Appeal ruled that the imprisonment of total objectors is discriminatory compared to Jehovah's Witnesses released in peacetime. In November 2018, the Supreme Court decided not to grant an appeal for the case, so the acquittal remains permanent. In practice, the solution suspended the custodial sentences of total objectors.

The law repealing the Jehovah's Witnesses Exemption came into effect April 1, 2019. However, those who refused before that should, on the principle of the law at the time of the commencement, obtain a acquittal, even if court proceedings are held after the repeal of the Exemption Act.

Indeed, in the first trials following the repeal of the Liberation Act on April 11, 2019, the Eastern Uusimaa District Court granted a acquittal. The line has later stabilized and on August 13, 2019, the Eastern Uusimaa District Court decided to dismiss the case as inadmissible in the case of a total objector who had been re-ordered under the Civilian Service Act. In practice, this should mean that more than hundred total objectors in 2018 and the first few months of 2019 will be released and no new sentences will be issued.

The ultimate assurance of this comes when, for the second time after the repeal of the Jehovah's Witnesses' Liberation Law, total objectors come to face trial. This will happen in January 2020.

After the repeal of the Liberation Act, those who refused will be sentenced to the old model and the first sentences have already been passed in the fall of 2019. You can find more information here.

We hope that if you are planning total objection, please report it to AKL! It is important that authorities other than those involved in sentencing remain aware of the number and motives of the total objectors.

Total objection

Total objection means denial of any service, including civilian service, included in the conscription system. Some of the total objectors, by their actions, protests against the entire conscription system and would refuse to perform civilian service under any circumstances. On the other hand, some protests primarily against the defects of the civilian service system. In recent years, there have been an average of 35-55 total objectors each year.

For those who refuse to go to the army directly or through civilian service, half of the remaining personal service time (for those who refuse to serve in the army it is first converted to a calculated civilian service time period). With 347 days of civilian service, the maximum sentence is 173 days. The punishment is given as imprisonment or nowadays usually under house arrest in accordance with the house arrest law. The judgment is always absolute and there is no possibility of obtaining conditional release except by applying for civilian service.

A sentence for total objector shall not be recorded in the criminal record. Instead, it becomes an entry in the judicial information system. An entry will appear if you are the subject of a security clearance. However, if the solution was made more than ten years ago, the information may not be used. On the other hand, according to the law governing the case, the Legal Register Center will have to remove personal data from its registers one year after the decisions have been taken. In the past, Supo may also have entered a total objection into its own records, which may appear in the security report (may still be, but there is no indication of it in recent years). However, the usage of Supo register is prohibited when conducting a limited security review.

Refusal process

Total objection is started when the total objector either gives written notice of denial before or during the service, refuses to enter, or leaves unauthorized, a designated place of service in the army or in the civilian service.

Civilian service refusers can refuse by sending a letter of refusal to Lapinjärvi Civilian Service Center. The person refusing is not given arrest warrant, but the authorities report the crime and the legal process begins. If a person is left unreported, the civilian service center will ask the police for help and after a while person in question will be searched at home. Again, refusal can be made in letter. Unauthoritized absence can also be directly reported.

In the event of an army refusal, the letter of refusal cannot be submitted. The surest way is to go leave it in person at a designated military department on the day of your enlistment. Failure to do so will result not only in the search warrant but also probably in unauthoritized absence, which will result in a fine or conditional imprisonment. This is the case even if you have submitted a denial notice to the military department in advance. Imprisonment convictions for absenteeism will be recorded in the criminal record.

The refusal is followed by an interrogation and trial, which can usually be expected several months after the refusal (ranging from a couple of months to over a year). Any total objector will have the opportunity to have access to a lawyer through the Union Of Conscientious Objectors if they so wish. Total objectors are usually offered the opportunity of a written procedure, whereby no hearing is held and the judgment is delivered from a "conveyor belt" from the District Court Office. The written procedure is only possible with the total objectors consent and can be revoked at any time before the trial. In addition to the custodial sentence, the court orders a total objector to pay a "crime victim charge" of € 40

Proceedings usually take a couple of months to three to execute. Even after the decision of the district court, the appeal may be delayed by appealing to the Court of Appeal. If the length of the judgment is less than four months, the Court of Appeal may not grant the appeal, but will nevertheless consider the application for an appeal. The length of the sentence at the court does not change unless the district court's decision is clearly in error, but the form of punishment (house arrest or imprisonment) may be changed by the court of appeal. In addition, the judgment will not be enforced as long as the application of appeal is in progress, which usually takes a few months. Prison sentence can be deferred for up to several years, but at their fastest it takes almost half a year.

Execution of punishment

The sentencing court may have sentenced the total objector to either a control sentence or imprisonment. In most cases, the sentence is imposed as a control sentence. The condition of a control sentence is that the prison authorities have examined the suitability of the accused before trial. Usually, total refusers pass the investigation without problems, but that is the way to go.

In practice, a control sentence means that, instead of a prison, a person carries a sentence at home with a foot collar. You may leave the dwelling only in accordance with a pre-established plan for work, study or other approved "condemnatory or social capacity" activities. The work is paid the same as elsewhere, and the person serving a supervisory sentence is also covered by social benefits.

The convicted person has a duty to participate, meaning that he or she must participate in one of the approved activities. The use of intoxicants while the sentence is prohibited and this is subject to unannounced home visits by the supervisor of the sentenced Criminal Sanctions Agency. Violation of the control sentence rules may lead to the conversion of the sentence into a prison sentence.

If a total refusal is sentenced to prison, the sentence is usually enforced in open prisons. In order to get into an open prison, you must obtain an open prison order. This will be done with the Civil Sanctions Office at the time when the judgment becomes timely. Most total objectors have had no trouble getting into an open prison. Only a very small amount total objectors has had significant problems with other prisoners or guards during his sentence. So you don't have to be very afraid of going to prison.

There are no walls, bars or lockable cells in the open prison. They also have the opportunity to work or study for a civilian - but other times are spent in prison. If you do not work outside, you are obliged to participate in the work organized by the institution. Salaries are close to civilian salaries, but they have to payed the institution maintenance costs.

If you have not obtained an open prison order, if you commit an offense at the open prison (trying to get away, get stuck in drug use, etc.) or if you just don't want to go to an open prison, you will end up in a closed prison. They are more in line with people's perceptions of prisons: they spend all their time behind the walls and spend much of their non-working time in their cell. In a closed plant, the salary is usually around 0.60 EUR per hour.

Inmates in both closed and in open prison have access to leave - the holiday period begins when they have completed two months of their sentence. Holidays are available for 3 days / 2 months.

Amnesty International has declared that it still considers current civilian service (347 days) to be discriminatory and consider total objectors as prisoners of conscience. The UN Commission of Human Rights has stated that it continues to regard the duration of civilian service as punitive and that Finland is thus in breach of the Convention on Civil and Political Rights. Finland is bound by this agreement.