MP who tweeted Bible verses could face prison penalty

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Päivi Räsänen

HELSINKI – A criminal conviction for posting a Bible tweet is now a very real possibility in Finland. On 24 January, former Minister of the Interior Päivi Räsänen will face a criminal trial after being accused of engaging in “hate speech” for publicly voicing her deeply held beliefs on marriage and human sexuality. In April 2021, the Prosecutor General brought three criminal charges against Räsänen over the contents of a church pamphlet Räsänen wrote over 17 years ago, for engaging in a debate on a 2019 radio show and for a tweet containing a picture of Bible verses she directed at her church leadership. Bishop Juhana Pohjola who published her pamphlet for his congregation faces trial alongside her.

“I have a calm mind ahead of the trial. I trust that we still live in a democracy, and we have our constitution and international agreements that guarantee our freedom of speech and religion. If I win the case, I think that it is a very important step for freedom of speech and religion. I think it’s not only important for Finland but also in Europe and other countries. 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. So, now it is time to speak. Because the more we are silent, the narrower the space for freedom of speech and religion grows”, says Päivi Räsänen ahead of the trial.

Räsänen is officially being prosecuted for the crime of “ethnic agitation”, under the section of “war crimes and crimes against humanity” in the Finnish criminal code.

Räsänen’s case may ultimately be decided by the European Court and its rulings must be followed within the UK legal system.

Free speech on 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 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. As her trial date approaches, ADF International continues to support Räsänen’s defence and the right for everyone to freely share their beliefs.

Counting on the court

“In a free society, everyone should be allowed to share their beliefs without fear of censorship. This is the foundation of every free and democratic society. 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. We hope and trust the Helsinki District Court will uphold the fundamental right to freedom of speech and acquit Päivi Räsänen of these outrageous charges,” said Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International and author of ‘Censored: How European Hate Speech Laws are Threatening Freedom of Speech’.

Räsänen has served as a Finnish Member of Parliament since 1995, was the first female chairperson 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.