Su, 1.10.2023

MP was caught having taken inappropriate photos of a minor

Alexandra Saarniit
, ajakirjanik
Chairman of the Riigikogu Foreign Affairs Committee, Marko Mihkelson.
Chairman of the Riigikogu Foreign Affairs Committee, Marko Mihkelson. Photo: Remo Tõnismäe
  • Chairman of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee took questionable snapshots of a child.
  • Marko Mihkelson declining from commenting the affair to Postimees.
  • There were no criminal charges and the dispute ended with a compromise.

It happened a few years ago, when a parent, whose name we will not disclose, accidentally discovered pictures on his child's cell phone, the contents of which allegedly made his legs give way. It was that shocking to him.

The story, which has been attempted to be hidden from the public, could have remained untold if the main author of the pictures had not been the chairman of the Riigikogu Foreign Affairs Committee, Marko Mihkelson (RE).

The photos showed the child in inappropriate poses, while the child (due to the delicacy of the subject, Postimees does not reveal the exact circumstances of the case) was naked or scantily clad. For example, in the case of one photo, the plaintiff has written that the child is in such a way that only the uncovered intimate area could be seen.

“Seeing such photos of your little child – no parent is prepared for this or has planned what to do if they saw it,” said attorney Maria Mägi-Rohtmets, whose client's lawsuit against Mihkelson was handled in court. “It was quite a shock for my client,” added Mägi-Rohtmets. For the sake of clarity, it must be added that one of the child's parents was aware of the photos being taken and agreed to it.

Postimees emphasizes that no criminal proceedings were initiated against Mihkelson; it was a civil case. In addition, it should be pointed out that all relevant procedures took place behind closed doors, which is why the article is largely based on the explanations of the sources. The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee declined from giving comments to Postimees.

Unreasonable behavior

The document forwarded to Postimees states that according to the plaintiff’s opinion the pictures taken by Mihkelson do not have any commemorative or artistic value; additionally, there are photos where the plaintiff believes that a minor is depicted in a sexualized and erotic manner.

However, Mihkelson has claimed to the police regarding several snapshots that he wanted to capture a “frolicking child” or that the photos were taken while playing. Since the photos, according to the description provided by the plaintiff, also showed the intimate area of ​​the minor, the plaintiff questioned the keeping of the photographs and their uploading.

“Typically, the purpose of taking a photo of a person is to capture a moment and convey an emotion. These pictures do not evoke any positive emotions, on the contrary – a person with a normal psyche feels unpleasant and embarrassed when looking at such a picture,” the plaintiff analyzed in the document sent to Postimees.

Mägi-Rohtmets explained that since the court proceedings between Mihkelson and her client were declared closed, she cannot describe the circumstances in detail. “The court proceedings were declared closed at the client's request and in the interests of the child, not in the interests of Marko Mihkelson,” she emphasized.

Mägi-Rohtmets cannot describe the photos in greater detail for the sake of the article, but states that her opinion was and still is that such photos of children should not be taken, much less recorded. According to her, other investigators have given the same opinion.

The civil court, the police, and the Social Insurance Board’s Children’s House service provider are aware of the case. Although one of the child's parents found the photos extremely disturbing – the other did not –, as far as Postimees knows, it was found that although Mihkelson's behavior was unreasonable, it does not qualify as a crime.

As said, no criminal proceedings were initiated against Mihkelson. However, according to one agency, the act is ethically objectionable, and in a situation where the child is not aware of being photographed naked, the principle of the child's bodily inviolability must be taken into account.

The parent has not been able to look at the photos any more

Answering the question why her client decided to turn to the authorities instead of Mihkelson himself, Mägi-Rohtmets pointed out that based on what the photos showed, she hinted to the client that to ensure the child's safety, mere words "Be a nice guy and do not do it any more!" would not have been enough:

“It was and is clear that in the interests of the children, all parents must turn to experts and investigators in similar cases.”

Although Mägi-Rohtmets's client's case was initially handled by another lawyer, the attorney-at law confirmed that even when he came to her a few months later, the client had found it difficult to even talk about the issue.

“It was an extraordinary lawsuit, and as a lawyer I am very satisfied that we were able to take the matter to court. As a professional, I am sorry that I cannot talk about it in practice, but it is more important that the client got what was possible through the court,” said the attorney-at-law.

Mägi-Rohtmets added that the court proceedings have ended and he cannot say exactly what the solution was. "With the court decision (judicial compromise - ed.), Marko Mihkelson was obliged to do something and was forbidden to do something in the future. Since it is not possible for the client or the bailiff to check whether Marko Mihkelson has complied with the court’s ruling, we can only hope for the best and keep our fingers crossed.”

Regarding the whole story, it should be emphasized that even though the litigation was ended with a compromise – as far as Postimees is aware, it was agreed that the chairman of the foreign commission may no longer photograph minors like this – the authorities did not find that Mihkelson had intentionally produced an erotic or pornographic image. It is more likely that the MP took the photos in error, while distracted by a game. As far as the daily is aware, no sexual abuse or other criminal act has been detected.

Children should not be photographed naked

How to photograph children in such a way that it does not cause trouble? Anna Frank, head of the Children’s House service of the Social Insurance Board, said that although she cannot comment on a specific case in view of the child's safety and well-being, materials depicting naked children are always a cause for concern. This is because it is never certain whether the best interests of the child are put first when doing them.

“When it comes to pictures of naked children, there is no black-and-white attitude, the situations can be more colorful – who created the materials, what and where they are used, etc.,” said Frank. True, it is common for many to have naked baby pictures in their album, and of course this is not punishable. However, according to the manager of the service, it can be a crime if the picture is used for the wrong purpose, which is why she recommends not taking snapshots of naked children at all.

The Children’s House evaluates situations related to children which have caught someone's attention by using different methods. One of them is the SENSOA flag system for professionals working with children and young people, which supports healthy sexual development and prevents sexual violence.

“Using the main criteria of this method, which are consent, voluntariness, equality, age appropriateness, background suitability, effect on self-esteem, we can place them in different assessment categories and evaluate what it is about and how to react to the situation. If the evaluation result leaves the green area, the situation must be taken more seriously.”

Frank admitted that it is common in the sexual behavior of children that they do not yet know how to do things correctly – for example, he brought up asking for consent. “But adults also do not know how to behave properly towards other adults and children, or they behave in an unacceptable manner.”

Rocky road to publication

Postimees received a tip about the case of Marko Mihkelson, chairman of the Riigikogu Foreign Affairs Committee, already in the middle of December last year. After the complaints had been sent to the editorial office, the journalist immediately contacted Mihkelson by phone; the latter did not explicitly confirm or deny the original information and emphasized the need to carefully follow the rules of ethics when dealing with the issue.

“I honestly do not know what you are talking about, what lawsuit?” the MP asked first and requested the editors to contact him in writing. However, Mihkelson did not send answers to the questions and instead turned to the editor-in-chief at the time to prevent the story from being published. The story remained at the bottom of the drawer for a while.

However, in March of this year, the journalist received a call from a police investigator who asked her to appear at the police station to give a statement. As it appeared, the committee chairman had turned to the authorities to find out who was the anonymous person who approached Postimees on the issue. However, a journalist is not obliged to disclose the sources. Criminal proceedings were initiated to investigate.