A former government minister faces jail after tweeting a Bible verse, says her trial next week will be a test of religious freedom.
Päivi Räsänen, a doctor and mother of five, said she had “a calm mind” before the criminal trial began on January 24.
“I am convinced that we still live in a democracy and that we have our constitution and our international agreements which guarantee our freedom of expression and religion,” said Räsänen, Finland’s interior minister from 2011 to 2015.
“If I win the case, I think it’s a very important step for freedom of expression and religion. I think this is not only important for Finland, but also for Europe and other countries.
“If I am convicted, I think the worst consequence would not be the fine against me, or even the prison sentence, it would be censorship.”
“So, now it’s time to talk. Because the more we remain silent, the more the space for freedom of expression and religion shrinks.
According to ADF International, a Christian legal group that supports her, Räsänen could face up to two years in prison for the tweet, after Finland’s attorney general filed criminal charges against her on April 29, 2020.
The MP could also face additional jail time if convicted of two other alleged offenses related to her comments in a 2004 pamphlet and on a 2018 TV show, the group said.
The Attorney General accused Räsänen of incitement against a minority group, arguing that his statements were “likely to provoke intolerance, contempt and hatred towards homosexuals”.
ADF International noted that Räsänen’s comments did not violate Twitter policies or the rules of the national broadcaster that aired the 2018 program, which is why they remain available on their platforms.
Finland is a country of 5.5 million inhabitants, bordering Norway, Russia and Sweden. About two-thirds of the population belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, one of the two national churches in the country, alongside the Finnish Orthodox Church.
The 62-year-old MP, who served as chairwoman of the Christian Democratic Party from 2004 to 2015, is an active member of the Finnish Lutheran Church. But she questioned her church’s sponsorship of an LGBT pride event in 2019.
On June 17, 2019, she asked in a Posting on Twitter how the sponsorship was compatible with the Bible, link to a photograph of a Bible passage, Romans 1:24-27, on Instagram. She also posted the text and image on Facebook.
“The goal [of] my tweet was in no way an insult to sexual minorities. My criticism was aimed at the leadership of the church,” she told the First Things newspaper in 2020.
Police began investigating Räsänen in 2019. She faced multiple police interrogations and had to wait over a year for the Attorney General’s decision.
Juhana Pohjola, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission diocese of Finland, was also accused of publishing Räsänen’s 2004 pamphlet “Male and female he created them”.
The International Lutheran Council issued a statement in July 2020 describing the decision to prosecute Räsänen as “flagrant”.
He said: “The vast majority of Christians of all nations, including Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, share these convictions. Would the Finnish Attorney General convict us all? Moreover, does the Finnish state risk being sanctioned by other states for violating basic human rights? »
Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International, said, “In a free society, everyone should be allowed to share their beliefs without fear of censorship. It is the foundation of any free and democratic society.
“The criminalization of speech through ‘hate speech’ laws shuts down important public debates and poses a grave threat to our democracies. These types of cases create a culture of fear and censorship and are becoming all too common across Europe.
“We hope and trust that the Helsinki District Court will uphold the fundamental right to freedom of expression and acquit Päivi Räsänen of these outrageous charges.”