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Finnish Member of Parliament marks one-year court victory anniversary while facing new free speech trial

Finnish Member of Parliament marks one-year court victory anniversary while facing new free speech trial

  • The prosecution of Finnish Parliamentarian Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola continues into its fourth year despite unanimous “not guilty” court ruling.
  • Freedom to publicly voice Christian beliefs at stake as prosecution continues censorship campaign.

HELSINKI (28th March 2023) – Will free speech in Finland prevail? Finnish Member of Parliament Päivi Räsänen is hopeful, looking forward to the anniversary of her acquittal on March 30th, despite the Finnish state prosecutor’s continued censorship campaign against her as she faces a second trial over her Bible tweet post.  

On 30th March 2022, the Helsinki District Court unanimously dismissed all charges against Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola, stating that “it is not for the district court to interpret biblical concepts”.  Nevertheless, the prosecutor filed an appeal against the “not guilty” verdict last April. The prosecution has demanded tens of thousands of Euros in fines and continues to insist that Räsänen’s and Pohjola’s publications be censored.   

“By continuing its campaign to censor peaceful beliefs the prosecution is setting a dangerous precedent of intolerance against free speech. I will keep fighting for free speech because it is the cornerstone of a free and democratic society. I am hopeful the appeal court will make the same decision as the district court and acquit me again,” said Päivi Räsänen. Watch her share her experience here.

A “new low” for free speech 

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 garnered global media attention last year, as human rights experts voiced concern over the threat this case posed to free speech in Finland. 

“When a longstanding and respected Finnish parliamentarian is put on trial twice for sharing her deeply held beliefs in a tweet four years ago, you know regard for free speech in Europe has hit a new low. Everyone who cares about free speech should be outraged at the continued prosecution of Päivi Räsänen. The prosecution wants to make an example of Päivi to scare others into silence. They failed in the first trial. We hope free speech will prevail again,” said Paul Coleman, author of ‘Censored: How European Hate Speech Laws are Threatening Freedom of Speech’ and Executive Director of ADF International, the legal advocacy organization supporting Räsänen’s defense.   

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 a total of thirteen hours of 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 brought three criminal charges against Räsänen. Two of the three charges Räsänen faced came 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 Bible on trial 

During the court hearing on 24th January and 14th February 2022, 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 entirely protected 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. It also ordered the prosecution to pay more than 60,000 EUR in legal costs. 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 expressed that she is willing to defend freedom of speech at every instance, even the European Court of Human Rights if necessary.  

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. 


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