Finnish Parliamentarian Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola await ruling in high-profile free speech trial
Räsänen and her legal team will be available for questions after the verdict at a press conference hosted by ADF International on 14 November at 15:30 CET, (14:30 GMT; 9:30 ET)
HELSINKI (13 November 2023) – The Helsinki Court of Appeal is expected to rule on the cases of Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola, on 14 November. Both faced trial on 31 August-1 September on criminal charges of “hate speech” for publicly sharing their faith-based beliefs. The August trial followed a unanimous acquittal in March 2022, after which the Finnish state prosecutor appealed.
Räsänen, Finnish parliamentarian and former Minister of the Interior, had voiced her convictions on marriage and sexual ethics in a 2019 tweet, a 2019 radio discussion, and a 2004 church booklet. Bishop Pohjola was charged for publishing Räsänen’s booklet. Their case garnered global attention this year, as human rights experts voiced concern over the threat this case poses to free speech in Finland and beyond.
“In a free society, everyone should be allowed to peacefully share their beliefs without fear of prosecution. This is the foundation of every free and democratic society. We hope the Helsinki Court of Appeal will uphold this fundamental freedom by confirming Räsänen’s acquittal by the District Court last year. Criminalizing speech through so-called ‘hate-speech’ laws shuts down important public debates and poses a grave threat to our democracies,” said Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International, serving on Räsänen’s legal defense team.
Press conference at 15:30 CET
ADF International will host a press conference on Tuesday, 14 November at 15:30 CET. Dr. Päivi Räsänen MP, Bishop Juhana Pohjola, and Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International, will be available for questions after their statements. You can register via the following link: https://events.teams.microsoft.com/event/a321a26c-bd5d-4250-ad37-fa32a8d4f876@c88562dc-cf95-4155-b379-dd3ef818d3ff
Holding certain biblical beliefs deemed “criminal”
During the high-profile trial, the prosecution attacked core Christian teachings and cross-examined Räsänen – who is one of Finland’s longest-standing members of parliament – and the Bishop on their theology. In her opening statement at the August 31st appeal trial, Finnish State prosecutor Anu Mantila claimed that “You can cite the Bible, but it is Räsänen’s interpretation and opinion about the Bible verses that are criminal”.
Elsewhere throughout the cross-examination, Räsänen was asked multiple times by the prosecutor if she would update or remove what she had said about marriage and sexuality in her 2004 church pamphlet, titled “Male & Female He Created Them”.
“At the heart of the prosecutor’s examination of Räsänen was this: would she recant her beliefs? The answer was no – she would not deny the teachings of her faith. The cross-examination bore all the resemblance of a ‘heresy’ trial of the Middle Ages; it was implied that Räsänen had ‘blasphemed’ against the dominant orthodoxies of the day,” said Coleman, author of Censored: How European Hate Speech Laws are Threatening Freedom of Speech.
The prosecution further argued that the intent behind the expression of faith was irrelevant. Räsänen should have known, noted the state prosecutor, that her words could be offensive to certain people and, therefore should have refrained from voicing her beliefs. Neither did it matter, according to the prosecutor, if what she had written was “true” (i.e., that her statements reflected a widely held Christian position); what mattered was that it was perceived as insulting.
Trial for a Tweet
Police investigations against Räsänen started in June 2019 after Räsänen directed a tweet at the leadership of her church – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland – questioning their official sponsorship of the Helsinki Pride Parade. She accompanied the question with a picture of Bible verses from the book of Romans.
Räsänen was questioned by the police for a total of 13 hours over several months. In April 2021, the Finnish Prosecutor General formally charged Räsänen with three counts of “agitation against a minority group” for publicly voicing her opinion on marriage and human sexuality in a 2004 church pamphlet – which she wrote before the law she was charged under was even enforced – and for comments she made on a 2019 radio show, in addition to the tweet. Lutheran bishop Juhana Pohjola was also charged for publishing Räsänen’s 2004 church booklet for his congregation. The charges fall under the war crimes and crimes against humanity section of the Finnish criminal code.
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.
To support Päivi Räsänen’s case, visit: https://ADFinternational.org/FreeSpeechOnTrial