Prosecutor files appeal against Finnish MP’s major free speech victory
State prosecution against Finnish Parliamentarian Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola continues, despite court’s unanimous “not guilty” ruling
Prosecution calls for tens of thousands in fines and censorship of MP’s Bible-Tweet
HELSINKI (3 May 2022) – The Finnish state prosecutor has filed her appeal against the unanimous court decision which exonerated a Finnish MP and bishop of “hate speech” allegations for sharing their faith-based beliefs. The prosecution is demanding tens of thousands of Euros in fines and insisting that Räsänen’s and Pohjola’s publications be censored. On 30th March 2022 the Helsinki District Court had dismissed all charges against Räsänen and Pohjola, stating that “it is not for the district court to interpret biblical concepts”. After announcing their intention to appeal almost a month ago, the prosecution appealed the District Court’s “not guilty” verdict on 30th April.
“After my full exoneration in court, I am dismayed that the prosecutor will not let this campaign against me drop. And yet, the prosecutor’s decision to appeal may lead to the case going all the way to the Supreme Court, offering the possibility of securing a positive precedent for freedom of speech and religion for all Finnish people. Also, I am happy that this decision will lead to the discussion of the Bible’s teachings in society. I am ready to defend freedom of speech and religion in all necessary courts. As far as the European Court of Human rights, if necessary,” said Päivi Räsänen, MP.
The process is part of 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, author of ‘Censored: How European Hate Speech Laws are Threatening Freedom of Speech’.
The Bible-Tweet Trial
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. The court had 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 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.