- Prosecution to continue after court unanimously dismissed all charges against Finnish Parliamentarian Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola
- April 30th deadline for state prosecutor to officially file appeal, having announced intent, in case against MP charged over Bible-Tweet
HELSINKI (6th April 2022) – After a unanimous court decision and strong recommendation by the police not to proceed with prosecution in the first place, the Finnish state prosecutor has publicly indicated her intent to push criminal proceedings against MP and bishop into their fourth year. On 30th March 2022 the Helsinki District Court dismissed all charges against Päivi Räsänen and bishop Juhana Pohjola, stating that “it is not for the district court to interpret biblical concepts”. The court also ordered the prosecution to pay more than 60,000 EUR in legal costs.
Reacting to the news, Päivi Räsänen, MP said:
“This case has been hanging over me and my family for almost three years. After my full exoneration in court, I am dismayed that the prosecutor will not let this campaign against me drop. Once again, I am prepared to defend freedom of speech and religion not just for me, but for everyone. I am grateful for all those who have stood by me during this ordeal and ask for their continued support.”
The process becomes the punishment
The former Minister of the Interior had been charged with “hate speech” for sharing her faith-based views on marriage and sexual ethics, in a 2019 tweet, a 2019 radio debate, and a 2004 pamphlet. Bishop Juhana Pohjola faced charges for publishing Räsänen’s pamphlet for his congregation over 17 years ago. Their case has garnered global media attention this year, as human rights experts voiced concern over the threat this case posed to free speech in Finland.
“The state’s insistence on continuing this prosecution despite such a clear and unanimous ruling by the Helsinki District Court is alarming. Dragging people through the courts for years, subjecting them to hour-long police interrogations, and wasting taxpayer money in order to police people’s deeply held beliefs has no place in a democratic society. As is so often the case in “hate speech” trials, the process has become part of the punishment,” said Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International.
A “canary in the coalmine” for the UK
Paul Coleman, author of “Censored: How European Hate Speech Laws are Threatening Freedom of Speech’”, said that cases such as Paivi’s are a “canary in the coalmine for countries such as the UK and others across Europe, which are implementing their own illiberal censorship laws.”
In the UK, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is in its final stages, 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 Safety Bill, which will empower social media giants to remove content that might be interpreted as “harmful”.
Meanwhile in Scotland, since the “Hate Crime and Public Order Act” was passed in 2021, the General Secretary of the Scottish Police Federation has attributed a steep rise in reported offences to “people taking offence at things they read on Twitter.”
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.
Christian teachings on trial
During the court hearing on 24th January and 14th February, Räsänen’s defence, supported by the legal advocacy organization ADF International, argued that finding Räsänen guilty would significantly damage free speech in Finland. What Räsänen said, they argued, was an expression of Christian teaching.
In its ruling, the Court recognized that while some may object to Räsänen’s statements, “there must be an overriding social reason for interfering with and restricting freedom of expression.” The Court concluded there was no such justification.
On 30th March 2022, the Helsinki District Court acquitted Räsänen of all charges. Unlike many other legal systems, under Finnish law the prosecutor can appeal “not guilty” verdicts all the way to the Supreme Court of Finland.
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.