The charges against Päivi Räsänen, a 62-year-old doctor and mother of five, relate to her comments in a 2004 pamphlet, her appearance on a 2018 TV show and a 2019 Twitter post.
HELSINKI — A former government minister faces jail in Finland after tweeting a Bible verse pleaded not guilty to three criminal charges on Monday.
Päivi Räsänen appeared in Helsinki District Court on January 24, the first day of his trial, alongside Juhana Pohjola, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission diocese of Finland, who is facing a criminal charge.
The Attorney General of Finland filed criminal charges against the two men on April 29, 2020, formally charging them with the crime of “ethnic agitation”, which falls under the “war crimes and crimes against humanity” section of the penal code. from the country.
The public prosecutor claimed that statements by Räsänen, who served as Finland’s interior minister from 2011 to 2015, were “likely to provoke intolerance, contempt and hatred towards homosexuals”.
The charges against Räsänen, a 62-year-old doctor and mother of five, relate to her comments in a 2004 pamphlet, her appearance on a 2018 TV show and a 2019 Twitter post.
The accusation against Pohjola relates to his decision to publish Räsänen’s pamphlet, “Male and female he created them”.
When the defendants arrived at court, they were greeted by supporters holding banners.
ADF International, a Christian legal group supporting the Christian Democrat MP, said that at the start of the trial the prosecution argued that views shared by Räsänen and Pohjola were discriminatory against minorities.
The defense asked the court not to impose its own theological interpretation of Scripture on Finland’s 5.5 million citizens, by criminalizing traditional Christian views on marriage and sexuality.
The defense said a guilty verdict would amount to the de facto criminalization of the Bible verses tweeted by Räsänen.
About two-thirds of the population of Finland – a country bordering Norway, Russia and Sweden – belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, one of the country’s two national churches, alongside the Finnish Orthodox Church.
The 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.
Discussing the tweet in court on Monday, she underline that the message was addressed to Church leaders and concerned an important subject facing the Church.
Police began investigating Räsänen in 2019. She faced multiple police interrogations and had to wait over a year for the Attorney General’s decision.
The International Lutheran Council called the decision to prosecute Räsänen and Pohjola “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 fundamental human rights? »
Addressing the pamphlet, which described homosexuality as “a disorder of psycho-sexual development”, Räsänen told the court that she was asked to write a text describing Lutheran teaching on sexuality for members of her church, from her perspective as a politician, physician, and Christian.
She said the the brochure was outdated given developments in research and legislation since 2004. But she argued that it should still exist as a record of the discussions that were taking place at that time.
Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International, noted that a guilty verdict would not set an instant legal precedent for other European countries. But he suggested it would ‘set a new European low bar for free speech standards’.
He added that similar cases “could really happen anywhere else” due to hate speech laws across the continent.
Oral arguments will take place on February 14th.