- Finnish Parliamentarian Päivi Räsänen faced criminal trial for expressing her beliefs, including in a Bible verse tweet, in censorship case dubbed a “canary in the coalmine” for the UK
- Räsänen will be available for questions after the verdict at a press conference hosted by ADF International on 30th March at 15:00 GMT
HELSINKI (30 March 2022) – The Court is expected to give a ruling on the Finnish MP Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola’s free speech case today. Both stand accused of having engaged in “hate speech” for publicly sharing their faith-based beliefs.
The pair are officially being prosecuted for the crime of “ethnic agitation”, under the section of “war crimes and crimes against humanity” in the Finnish criminal code.
The former Minister of the Interior and grandmother of seven Päivi Räsänen had voiced her convictions on marriage and sexual ethics, in a 2019 tweet, a 2019 radio debate, and a 2004 pamphlet. The bishop faces charges for publishing Räsänen’s pamphlet. Their case garnered global media attention this year, as human rights experts voiced concern over the threat this case poses to free speech across Europe.
“This criminal prosecution serves as a canary in the coalmine for countries such as the UK and others across Europe, which are implementing their own illiberal censorship laws,” said Paul Coleman, British lawyer, Executive Director of ADF International and author of ‘Censored: How European Hate Speech Laws are Threatening Freedom of Speech’.
Meanwhile in the UK, the House of Lords will tomorrow debate a bill in its final stages which could censor public speech and expression deemed to risk causing “alarm” or “distress”. Concerns have also been raised about the censorial nature of the Online Harms Bill, which will empower social media giants to remove content that might be interpreted as “harmful”.
“In a free society, everyone should be allowed to share their beliefs without fear of censorship. This is the foundation of every free and democratic society. We hope the Helsinki District Court will uphold this fundamental freedom when it rules on this case. Criminalizing speech through so-called ‘hate-speech’ laws shuts down important public debates and poses a grave threat to our democracies,” continued Coleman.
Christian teachings on trial
The high-profile trial received significant attention, particularly after the prosecution attacked core Christian teachings and cross-examined Räsänen and the bishop on their theology in court. The prosecutor began the first day of the trial by arguing that the case was not about beliefs or the Bible. She then proceeded to quote Old Testament Bible verses and criticize the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin”.
“I will continue to stand for what I believe and what I have written. And I will speak and write about these things, because they are a matter of conviction, not only an opinion. I trust that we still live in a democracy, and we have our constitution and international agreements that guarantee our freedom of speech and religion,” said MP Päivi Räsänen, former Minister of the Interior and grandmother facing trial for a tweet.
In their closing statement, the prosecution alleged that the use of the word “sin” can be “harmful” and called for heavy fines in the event of a guilty verdict.
“The prosecutor on more than one occasion questioned whether we in Finland follow Finnish law or the Bible, as if these things are so inherently contradictory that you have to choose one,” said Coleman following the trial.
“I would characterize the day as a modern-day Inquisition or heresy trial,” he concluded.
Trial for a Tweet
Police investigations against Räsänen started in June 2019. As an active member of the Finnish Lutheran church, she had addressed the leadership of her church on Twitter and questioned its official sponsorship of the LGBT event ‘Pride 2019’, accompanied by an image of Bible verses from the New Testament book of Romans. Following this tweet, further investigations against Räsänen were launched, going back to a church pamphlet Räsänen wrote almost 20 years ago.
In the last two years, Räsänen attended several lengthy police interrogations about her Christian beliefs – including being frequently asked by the police to explain her understanding of the Bible. In April 2021, Finland’s Prosecutor General had brought three criminal charges against Räsänen. Two of the three charges Räsänen faced had come after the police made strong recommendations not to continue the prosecution. Räsänen’s statements also did not violate the policies of Twitter or the national broadcaster, which is why they remained freely available on their platforms. The Helsinki District Court has now acquitted Räsänen of all charges.
Räsänen has served as a Finnish Member of Parliament since 1995. From 2004-2015 she was chair of the Christian Democrats and from 2011-2015 she was the Minister of the Interior. During this time, she held responsibility for church affairs in Finland.
Press conference after the verdict
ADF International will host a press conference after the verdict is announced on 30th March at 16:00 CEST. Dr. Päivi Räsänen, MP, Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International, and Lorcán Price, Legal Counsel for ADF International will be available for questions after their statements. Please register here to access the Zoom link: https://adfinternational.org/paivi-press-conference-invitation/