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TODAY: Finnish hate speech trial a “canary in the coalmine” for Scottish censorship laws

  • Finnish Parliamentarian Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola to appear in court today in final day of “hate speech” trial over their Christian beliefs
  • Experts warn that chilling case represents “canary in the coalmine” for other countries implementing similar hate speech laws, including Scotland

HELSINKI (14 January 2022) – Today, Finnish parliamentarian Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola will face their second day on trial in Helsinki. The longstanding parliamentarian and former Minister of the Interior, together with the Bishop, are being accused of engaging in “hate speech” for publicly voicing their deeply held beliefs on marriage and sexual ethics.

British lawyer Paul Coleman, author of ‘Censored: How European Hate Speech Laws are Threatening Freedom of Speech’, was present in court for the first day of the trial. Coleman serves as Executive Director of ADF International, the legal advocacy group supporting Räsänen and Pohjola’s defense.

“This criminal prosecution serves as a canary in the coalmine for countries such as Scotland and others across Europe, which are implementing their own illiberal censorship laws,” commented Coleman.

“A modern-day inquisition”

In April 2021, Finland’s Prosecutor General brought three criminal charges against Räsänen over the contents of a pamphlet Räsänen wrote on these topics in 2004, for engaging in a debate on a 2019 radio show and for a tweet containing a picture of Bible verses Räsänen directed at her church leadership. Bishop Pohjola faces trial alongside Räsänen for publishing the pamphlet she wrote over 17 years ago for his congregation.

“The majority of the trial so far has been about the role of the Bible in society. The prosecutor began the first day by trying to explain that this case was not about beliefs or the Bible. She then, however, proceeded to quote Old Testament Bible verses and ended the day by cross-examining the bishop about details of Christian theology. All this in a secular court. Finnish trial lawyers 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. I would characterize the day as a modern-day Inquisition or heresy trial and the heresy was that Päivi and Bishop Juhana were on trial against the new sexual orthodoxy of the day,” continued Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International.

Support for the defendants growing in UK and internationally

Crowds gathered outside of the courthouse for the first day of the trial on 24th January to show their support for the politician and the Bishop. Both stand accused of “hate speech” for expressing their faith-based views. Closing arguments will be heard today. A ruling on their case is expected in March.

Over the weekend, Several high-profile members of the US Congress including Texas Republican Rep. Chip Roy wrote an open letter of encouragement to Räsänen and Pohjola:

”In the spirit of Christian solidarity, we write to offer you our support, encouragement, and our prayers during this trying time. […] Ms. Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola, we have kept you in our prayers over the past months as we watched your cases from the United States — knowing that this challenge you face is not merely legal, but spiritual,” read the letter.

And last month, UK MPs filed an Early Day Motion in parliament, highlighting the controversial prosecution and raising concerns about “the potential implications of that case for other countries”.

“Now it is time to speak. Because the more we are silent, the narrower the space for freedom of speech and religion grows. I believe all people are equal and precious. I just wanted to share what I believe and what I think is best for all human beings. This belief comes from love, not hate. If I’m convicted, I think that the worst consequence would not be the fine against me, or even the prison sentence, it would be the censorship of my statements and writings and many others like them,” said Päivi Räsänen ahead of the trial.

Trial for a Tweet

As closing arguments are put forward, ADF International continues to support Räsänen’s defence and the right for everyone to freely share their beliefs. Lorcan Price, Legal Counsel for ADF International will be with Räsänen and her Bishop in court.

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 has attended several lengthy police interrogations about her Christian beliefs – including being frequently asked by the police to explain her understanding of the Bible.

Two of the three charges Räsänen faces 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 are still freely available on their platforms.

Free speech on trial

“Päivi Räsänen stands for what she believes and continues to defend everyone’s right to share those beliefs with others. We urge the court to uphold freedom of speech and religion in line with the Finnish constitution and its international commitments. Censorship of specific views has no place in a pluralistic society,” said Lorcan Price, Legal Counsel for ADF International.

Räsänen has served as a Finnish Member of Parliament since 1995, was chair of the Christian Democrats from 2004-2015, and from 2011-2015 she was the Minister of the Interior, during which she held responsibility for church affairs in Finland.

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