Striking a Blow for the Lynx
Jani Seppälä, 29, is the Finnish EVR (ALF) Supporters Group's press officer and one of five Finnish animal rights activists who was recently on trial for an aborted henna raid on a fur farm in Orimattila in December 1997. The trial, which was the first of its kind, lasted three days and saw testimony from many witnesses, including a medical criminologist who stated that they were in a potential life-threatening situation when the fur farmer, Markku Kuisma, shot at and wounded three of the five. Jani was shot and wounded nine times, once through the lung which left him in critical condition in the hospital for days after the shootings. All activists received 4-month probational sentences and the farmer 18-months probation.
In addition to the above case, Jani and numerous other activists are suffering the consequences of informant Ari Ripatti's grassing to the police. Ripatti, who had acted as a safehouse for liberated animals, made confessions to the police implicating a dozen activists, and has helped the police crack numerous liberation cases. Subsequently many activists have been caught for rescuing animals, including Ripatti's own wife.
Jani is facing charges for rescuing beagles on three separate occasions from the now financially-unstable Karttula breeder. He has confessed to all three liberations, and his trial will be held in March 1999. In addition, this February, he and three others were charged with theft and criminal damage in the liberation of 28 rats from Tampere University (the rats are all still free). If that weren't enough, he faces charges along with two other men of breaching the domestic peace on a fur farm in Kuhmo, north Finland. The farmer is demanding enormous compensation.
NC: What would you like to say about the Orimattila case and your sentence? What impact will the outcome have on the fur industry and the animal rights movement? Finally what can activists learn from the mistakes you all made that led to the shooting?
J: In Finland, the sentences are quite light compared to, say, England, but animal rights activists are treated quite hard in lower courts. In higher courts, the sentences are more down-to-earth, but I'm not putting much hope in the lower court. I see the benefits of illegal direct action. Here in Finland animal rights is considered an important political theme. And in Orimattila, so many animals were saved. This couldn't have been achieved without direct action. The unfortunate side to the Orimattila case was the unbelievable amount of support the shooter and the entire fur industry got. According to general opinion, the farmer should have had a lighter sentence, and we should have had harsher ones. I'm sure that activists all over the world have made mistakes. Our mistake in the Orimattila case was that we weren't careful enough, and we took the raid too lightly and as routine job.
NC: Grassing has been quite a problem in the Finnish animal rights movement. How do you think grasses should be dealt with?
J: We can let them know what we think of them and their actions and talk about them in our magazines, etc. But, physical "payback" isn't justified--or at least is not a good tactic. Much like in the Ormattila case: I have been shot and, of course, I have an urge to take revenge, but I'm in this because of the animals and I have to think about this also in the sense of how violence and retribution will affect the animal rights movement as a whole.
NC: Was the Tampere rat liberation easy to do? What kind of security did you have to deal with to liberate the rats and how long did the actual liberation take?
J: The rat job was easy and fast: there were no guards, no alarm systems, and the entry was easy. Afterwards I felt sorry about not spending more time inside and taking more animals out (although it is quite hard to find homes in Finland). Now the place is well-secured: there are bars in the windows, video cameras, etc. The moral of the story is: once you're at it, do it properly.
NC: Can you tell us about the highlights of the three separate beagle liberations and about the conditions you found the beagles in?
J: The best thing about rescuing animals is that you get to see the conditions in which the animals are kept, and then you can actually liberate animals from those conditions, see them adapting to a life in a good home, and see them living in freedom. Also seeing the conditions strengthens the feeling that something has to be done about it. At the Karttula breeder, dogs live in concrete cells without any possibilities for physical exercise, without stimulation, and their food is always one kind of soft matter. You can see the conditions in the dogs. Their muscles, paws, fur, and teeth are in bad condition, not to mention their mental state.
NC: How is the Karttula breeder doing now, after the raids and the protest camp last summer?
J: The breeding facility is in a secluded location, and they don't want publicity for it. After the third time we rescued dogs from there, we got quite a bit of media coverage, and the place is now known. During the protest camp, there was even more publicity, and the breeder had to spend a lot of money on security and guards. The university that owns the breeder is in bad shape economically so they have to make cuts. It looks like the breeder is under threat of getting closed because they are not doing that well to begin with. They are not selling enough dogs, security is really expensive, and the breeder is quite an image problem for the university.
NC: In regard to the Kuhmo case, why is the farmer asking for compensation? Can you tell us about the case?
J: We were actually just looking at the farm when the farmer spotted us. So we were not in the farm area. We were some distance away in the woods, so we couldn't have been breaching the domestic peace. Well, the farmer still tried to get some money out of us, claiming that because we were there, we caused his cub result to drop and therefore we caused criminal damage. This case is a good example of how animal rights cases are treated. Nothing happened and the police agree, but still the prosecutor and the court are pressured to charge us and possibly convict us.
NC: How do you see the future of the animal rights movement in Finland? Though it is young it has been through quite a lot and achieved a huge amount in a very small space of time.
J: At least we have brought animal issues into public discussion. But it is important that we create a strong movement which is capable of long-term campaigning--and we are not quite at that point at the moment. Finland's animal rights movement is young and those who are involved are usually quite young, which is not bad, but sometimes you can't really tell what they want or, at times, they are not prepared to work long-term to achieve it.