- Appeal to public yields wave of support for MP in free speech case
- Former government minister and long-serving MP faces several police investigations after voicing opinion publicly
HELSINKI/VIENNA (25 March 2020) – Päivi Räsänen, the Finnish MP facing police investigations for publicly expressing her beliefs, has received countless messages of support from all over the world. In June 2019, she directed a tweet at the leadership of her church and questioned its official sponsorship of the LGBT event “Pride 2019”, accompanied by an image of a bible text. The prosecutor opened a number of investigations, including one into this tweet. Räsänen has already attended two lengthy police interviews about the tweet and a pamphlet she wrote 16 years ago on human sexuality for a Christian foundation. She now faces further questioning regarding interviews she gave to a television program and a radio station.
ADF International is supporting the defence of Mrs. Räsänen as well as raising public awareness about her case. This has prompted many members of the public to reach out with messages of support.
“In a free society, everyone should be free to share their beliefs without fear of censorship. This is the foundation of every free and democratic society. It is encouraging that so many people show their support for Mrs. Räsänen. Criminalizing speech through so-called ‘hate-speech’ laws shuts down important public debates and poses a grave threat to our democracies. These sorts of cases create a culture of fear and censorship and are becoming all too common throughout Europe,” said Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International and author of Censored: How European Hate Speech Laws are Threatening Freedom of Speech. Listen to him addressing this case and free speech in general on the latest episode of the Brendan O’Neill Show.
Support for free speech from around the world
In response to ADF International’s appeal to the public to support Mrs. Räsänen, hundreds of people from all over the world have sent messages:
“For as long as I can recall the statement that-’I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the very end your right to say it regardless’-was at the heart of all that was accepted as good among the vast majority of people in the civilized world,” UK.
“You have a fundamental right to freedom of speech. I wish you success in your struggle,” Australia.
“A free society means freedom to think and express one’s thoughts, no matter who may feel offended,” Canada.
“Everyone should have the right to free speech. If we start policing what people may and may not say, we will stop living in a free, democratic society,” Serbia.
Investigation of speech in Finland
In Finland, there are a number of laws that regulate speech, including the “ethnic agitation” law – an offence that carries a prison sentence of up to two years.
The police had already decided to drop the investigation into Mrs. Räsänen’s pamphlet and concluded that there were no grounds to proceed with a prosecution. However, the Prosecutor General reopened the criminal investigation. On 2 March 2020, the police interviewed Mrs Räsänen about the pamphlet following a first interrogation in November 2019 concerning the tweet.
On 5 March, Räsänen was informed that the Prosecutor General had launched two more investigations against her. One concerns her comments on a TV show in 2018 called, “Yökylässä Maria Veitola” (Maria Veitola, Overnight visit), in which the presenter came to Räsänen’s home and stayed overnight. In this program they discussed religious matters, including Räsänen’s personal beliefs. The fourth investigation focuses on a radio interview from 20 December 2019, in which Räsänen was asked to comment on the show’s topic of discussion, “What would Jesus think about homosexuals?”
Mrs. 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 time she held responsibility for church affairs in Finland.
Responding to the police investigation, she said:
“I never thought I would face a criminal investigation for sharing my deeply held beliefs. It came as a total surprise. As a Christian and a democratically elected Member of Parliament, I have often heard things with which I disagree – sometimes very strongly. At times, I have felt insulted. I believe the best response to this is more debate, not censorship.
These police investigations raise concerns about limiting the freedoms that have been guaranteed in our Constitution and in international human right treaties. A major threat for freedom of religion and free speech is that we don’t make use of these rights. I hope these criminal investigations won’t lead to self-censorship among Christians. I am going to use my rights regardless of the police investigation. I encourage others to do the same.”
Lorcan Price, Legal Counsel for ADF International and part of the team supporting her case, said:
“The European Court of Human Rights has affirmed that the right to freedom of expression does not protect merely popular ideas, but also those that challenge the status quo. You can support Mrs. Räsänen’s freedom of speech whether you agree with her positions or not. If we want to have freedom for ourselves, we have to extend it to those with whom we disagree. Tolerance is a two-way street. Driving people with different beliefs out of the public square is not only a violation of the rights protected in international and European law, but leaves our societies all the poorer for it.”