Free speech is on trial today!
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Who is Päivi Räsänen?
Päivi’s life changed forever in June 2019. Finnish police interrogated her for the ‘crime’ of tweeting her biblical worldview. It was this tweet that Päivi, a Finnish medical doctor, active parliamentarian, former Minister of the Interior, mother, grandmother, and Christian posted online to question her church’s official sponsorship of the Helsinki LGBTQ ‘Pride 2019’ event. And for this, she was charged as a criminal.
Nearly four years later, her second trial looms at the Helsinki Court of Appeal in August 2023 after receiving a unanimous acquittal at the District Court of Helsinki. Following the tweet, the police also investigated a pamphlet that she authored for her church in 2004 titled, “As Man and Woman He Created Them” about sexuality and marriage. Bishop Juhana Pohjola also stood trial alongside Päivi for publishing the pamphlet.
Since the Prosecutor General levied three criminal ‘hate speech’ charges against Päivi, she has endured over 13 hours of interrogation, months of waiting for court procedures, an onerous trial, and countless lies spread by the media.
And yet, this committed civil servant and grandmother never thought she would be put on trial for sharing her beliefs in public. But in the face of relentless pressure, she is standing strong.
What are ‘Hate Speech’ laws and how are they defined?
So-called ‘hate speech’ laws are ambiguously worded laws that criminalise certain speech beyond what is acceptable in a democratic society. Rather than combat hate, the criminalisation of speech based on subjective criteria creates a culture of fear and censorship.
Despite having no basis in international law, all European Union member states have vague and subjective ‘hate speech’ laws. These laws, with the right police and prosecutor, can easily be weaponised against practically any person and any form of speech.
Because ‘hate speech’ laws rely on vague terms such as ‘insult’, ‘belittle’, and ‘offend,’ they are inconsistently interpreted and arbitrarily enforced. An offence is considered hateful in reference to the hearer or reader, making it subjective and often with little to no regard for the content of the speech itself.
Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola are being prosecuted for the crime of “ethnic agitation”, under the section of “war crimes and crimes against humanity” in the Finnish criminal code. “Ethnic agitation” for expressing basic Biblical truth online, in a pamphlet, and on a radio debate. The onerous legal process has been the punishment in and of itself because the targeting of public figures sends an ominous message to all who dare to express their convictions.
In the view of the prosecution, Päivi’s beliefs, rooted in the Bible and Christian tradition, are hateful and criminal. In Finland, and across Europe, the message is becoming increasingly clear: if you hold a different worldview than the state, don’t share it publicly.
This trial shows just how far the prosecution is willing to go to silence and sanction speech that doesn’t conform to their own worldview.
ADF International has coordinated the legal defence of Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola since 2019 and we will stand by them until the end. After a unanimous acquittal in 2022, free speech is on trial once again at the Helsinki Court of Appeal.
What’s at stake in this Case?
Hate speech’ laws shut down important debates and threaten freedom of speech, which is the cornerstone of democratic society. Everyone has the fundamental right to peacefully share their beliefs without fear or intimidation.
These laws encourage the state to use extraordinary power to police citizens’ speech while opening the door for costly litigation and reputational harm.
If Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola are acquitted again, this time by the Helsinki Court of Appeal, it will send a resounding message that censorship is not acceptable in 2023 and beyond. The district court unanimously upheld the fundamental right to free speech in 2022. But the prosecution can continue its assault on free speech and appeal to the Supreme Court of Finland. We will support Päivi and Bishop Pohjola for as long as it takes to secure their full acquittal.
If the logic of the Finnish prosecutor spreads elsewhere, there will be many other similar heresy trials, – and basic Christian theology could be rendered unspeakable.
Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola endure trial today, in hopes of ensuring that this isn’t you, your church leaders, friends, family members, or colleagues tomorrow.
“Finnish trial attorneys who have been in and out of court every day for years, said they didn’t think the Bible had ever been read out like that in a prosecution.”Paul ColemanExecutive Director, ADF International
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”Now is the time to speak. Because the more we are silent, the narrower the space for freedom of speech and religion grows. If I’m convicted, I think the worst consequence would not be the fine against me, or even a prison sentence, but the censorship.Päivi RäsänenFinnish Parlementarian
Let’s Stop the Advancement of Censorship and Support Free Speech
‘Hate Speech’ FAQs
‘Hate Speech’ is a term with no clear definition. While most will be familiar with the term ‘hate speech’, it is not used by any of the major international human rights treaties, and it has not been clearly defined by the European Court of Human Rights or any other international court.
National governments, technology companies, and international agencies use the term ‘hate speech’ in different ways in different documents. It is widely accepted that there is no universally agreed definition of ‘hate speech’ and most attempts rely on vaguely defined terms and subjectivity. Dangerously Ambiguous Laws Hundreds of draconian criminal speech laws exist on the statute books in Europe. In Austria, ‘insulting or belittling with the intent to violate the human dignity of others carries a two-year prison sentence.
In Greece, ‘insulting God in public’ carries a two-year prison sentence, and in Denmark, insulting the flag of the United Nations carries the same sentence. In Hungary, the State itself can be the victim of ‘hate speech’: inciting hatred against the Hungarian nation potentially carries a three-year prison sentence.
Similar laws exist across Europe, with enforcement focused on those who do not share the State’s views on certain politically charged topics. Consequently, in twenty-first-century Europe, public – and sometimes, even private – discussions on abortion, immigration, Islam, marriage and same sex relationships are high risk.
‘Hate speech’ laws hurt democracy because ‘hate speech’ laws rely so heavily on subjective and unclear terms (such as ‘insult’, ‘belittle’, and ‘offend.’) They are inconsistently interpreted and arbitrarily enforced. Generally, ‘hate speech’ is considered hateful by reference to the hearer, making it subjective and often with no or little regard for the content of the speech itself.
Because of the vague and subjective nature of these allegations, the authorities necessarily have to select which prosecutions to pursue.
This generally results in the targeting of minority groups or opinions by those who disagree. In some cases, even the fact that what was spoken is demonstrably truthful is no defence. It is not just spoken speech which has attracted the attention of censors, but also activity online. Internet giants including Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft have partnered with the European Commission to actively remove ‘hate speech’ online.
In practice, this has led to significant censorship on internet platforms, with very little insight into how each decision to remove user content is made, or how such decisions can be appealed.
Freedom of expression is undoubtedly one of the most fundamental freedoms and features prominently in all major human rights treaties and national constitutions the world over.
Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights guarantees that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, and in the landmark case of Handyside v. United Kingdom, 6 the European Court of Human Rights recognized that: Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of [democratic] society, one of the basic conditions for its progress and for the development of every man … it is applicable not only to ‘information’ or ‘ideas’ that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population.
Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no ‘democratic society’. The European Court has further stressed that States are under a positive obligation to create a favourable environment for participation in public debate by all persons concerned, enabling them to express their opinions and ideas without fear. speak freely.
‘Hate Speech’ FAQs
‘Hate speech’ laws shrink the boundaries of free speech and create a chilling effect on a variety of important conversations. Given the vague nature of ‘hate speech’, citizens look to avoid engaging in sensitive or potentially offensive topics for fear that this might be qualified as ‘hate speech’ and lead to a criminal investigation.
These ‘hate speech’ laws can ruin the reputation and livelihoods of individuals, even when they ultimately do not result in a prosecution. In this sense, the process becomes the punishment and others are deterred from making similar statements in the future.