A Finnish court has announced the date for a hearing to determine whether a former government minister should be jailed after tweeting a Bible verse.
The Helsinki District Court said the case involving Päivi Räsänen, a doctor and mother of five, will be heard on January 24, 2022.
According to ADF International, a Christian legal group that supports her, Räsänen could be sentenced to two years in prison or a fine for the tweet, after the Finnish public prosecutor filed criminal charges against her on April 29.
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.
Räsänen said, “I await the legal proceedings with a calm mind, confident that Finland will respect the freedom of expression and religion enshrined in fundamental rights and international conventions.”
“I will not back down from my Bible-based belief and am prepared to defend freedom of speech and religion in any court necessary.”
“I cannot accept that expressing religious beliefs can mean imprisonment. I will defend my right to confess my faith, so that no one else is deprived of their right to freedom of religion and expression.
The Attorney General accused Räsänen, who served as Finland’s interior minister from 2011 to 2015, of incitement against a minority group, arguing that his statements were “likely to provoke intolerance, contempt and hatred towards homosexuals”.
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 61-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 last year.
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.”
Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International, said, “In a free society, everyone should be allowed to share their beliefs without fear of censorship. The Finnish Attorney General’s decision to bring these charges against Dr. Räsänen creates a culture of fear and censorship.
“It is sobering that such cases are becoming all too common across Europe. If committed civil servants like Päivi Räsänen are prosecuted for having expressed their deep convictions, this creates a chilling effect on the right of everyone to express themselves freely.
The International Lutheran Council released a statement in July describing the decision to prosecute Räsänen and Pohjola 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? »