Prosecutor's office: October 23 demonstrations were free speech issue

Anti-vaccination protesters gathered on Freedom Square in Tallinn on October 23, 2021.
Anti-vaccination protesters gathered on Freedom Square in Tallinn on October 23, 2021. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The Office of the Prosecutor General does not make moral and ethical assessments on gatherings and speeches where points of view are expressed, the office says, making its remarks in the context of its rejection of a criminal complaint from a senior Tallinn doctor over protests and statements made by a politician and the head of a conservative think-tank.

The prosecutor's office said that: "Freedom of expression and assembly apply in the Republic of Estonia in accordance with the Constitution, and individuals who taking part in a demonstration have the right to express their minds and views, even in a situation where such views may not be pleasing to other people."

The prosecution could not initiate criminal proceedings where there was no evidence of an intention to commit a crime, the office continued. The complaint, issued by Andres Kork, chief surgeon at the West Tallinn Central Hospital (LTKH), stated that activities had constituted a criminal act.

"In a situation where the intention of persons to commit the crimes mentioned in the complaint is not identifiable, but the exercise of freedom of expression and experience is evident, the prosecutor's office has no legal right to initiate criminal proceedings.

The prosecutor's office said it had not identified any signs of the intention to commit a crime in holding the protests, either on the part of Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) leader Martin Helme, or Foundation for the Protection of the Family and Tradition (SAPTK) director Varro Vooglaid.

"The criminal complaint and its appended materials do not show any circumstances that would give rise to suspicion that the offenses alleged by the applicant had taken place," the prosecutor's office continued in its statement.

"These are personal statements made by Martin Helme and Varro Vooglaid in the course of the demonstration, which, in the opinion of the prosecutor's office, do not in any way imply the intent to commit the acts described in the statement."

"This renders it inconceivable that these speeches have a bearing on national security, or the potential for serious breaches of constitutional order or public order, in so far as both parties have expressly excluded it in their speeches," the statement continued.

The demonstration was held in Vabaduse väljak (Freedom Square) in Tallinn on 23 October this year, in protest against coronavirus restrictions and the vaccination program.

"Vooglaid [in his words on October 23] assessed the impact of such an obligation on members of the public's jobs, and their other rights and freedoms. He considers the government to have been committing a criminal act and setting up an apartheid-style regime. He refers to the Chancellor of Justice's views, and considers it unconstitutional," the statement continued, adding that no calls for unrest, violence, riots or other disturbance had been made, but instead: "A peaceful and dignified, if uncompromising, attitude towards the government 's orders regarding compulsory vaccination."

Helme's similar line on the vaccination program and restrictions – that they act outside the framework of the rule of law – and a call for the bringing down of the government of Kaja Kallas, simiarly was not a criminal offense, the office found.

The prosecutor's office added that sometimes establishing the basis of criminal intent solely on an individual's words is not wholly possible and has to be taken into account alongside, inter alia, that individual's actions – though in this case both Helme and Vooglaid's words and deeds were consistent, the office said.

The prosecutor's office on November 1 received a criminal complaint from Andres Kork, chief surgeon at LTKH, in connection with Vooglaid and Helme's words at the October 23 demonstration, and also on social media.

The two men had organized and prepared for mass disorder, inciting participation in same and violent acts against the Republic of Estonia, Kork said.

The October 23 demonstration was also attended by well-known singer Tõnis Mägi, as well as EKRE MEP Jaak Madison and the party's deputy chair Mart Helme.

A nearby pizza restaurant said it had been forced to close during the demonstration, after protesters had allegedly harassed staff members who asked for vaccination certificates. A fundraising drive was unveiled on social media to support both the restaurant and staff at LTKH, spearheaded by its chief doctor, Arkadi Popov, who ran for the Center Party in the October 17 local elections.

Several EKRE members quit the party in the aftermath of the demonstration, including one recently-elected Tallinn councilor.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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