Acquitted Finnish MP facing Supreme Court appeal

Finland is continuing its pursuit of Finnish MP Päivi Räsänen and Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola, accusing them of “hate speech” and other “crimes against humanity” under the Finnish criminal code.

HRLA has previously reported on the case, in which Ms Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola were charged for tweets and public statements questioning the church’s promotion of an LGBT pride event.

Despite being unanimously acquitted in court twice, the first in the District Court and then in the Helsinki Court of Appeals, the prosecution has just announced it will appeal the case to the Supreme Court of Finland.

The Finnish state prosecutor waited until the last possible day to file an appeal against the acquittal of both the MP and the Bishop.

It is clear that the state prosecution is determined to silence and punish Räsänen and Pohjola because of their Christian beliefs. The process itself is now entering its fifth year.

However, Räsänen has indicated that she is equally determined to defend her right to freedom of expression:

“After my full exoneration in two courts, I’m not afraid of a hearing before the Supreme Court. Even though I am fully aware that every trial carries risks, an acquittal from the Supreme Court would set an even stronger precedent for everyone’s right to free speech and religion. And if the Court decided to overturn the lower courts’ acquittals, I am ready to defend freedom of speech and religion as far as the European Court of Human rights, if necessary”.

The case has attracted international attention and concern from human rights experts, particularly regarding its broader free speech implications. The persistence of the Finnish state prosecutor in pursuing this case is highly concerning.

Throughout the legal ordeal, Räsänen’s Christian beliefs have faced intense scrutiny, as she has endured over thirteen hours of police interrogations regarding her interpretations of biblical teachings.

Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International, who are supporting Rasanen’s legal defence, has said:

“The state’s insistence on continuing this prosecution despite such a clear and unanimous ruling by both the Helsinki District Court and Court of Appeal 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 the punishment”.

As the Finnish Supreme Court contemplates whether to hear the case, the outcome will have significant implications, not only for Räsänen and Pohjola but also the limits of free speech and the protection of religious freedom more broadly.  The case reflects a worrying trend in Western countries, where Christians face increased scrutiny and legal challenges due to their beliefs.

In a similar vein, here in Australia, the Human Rights Law Alliance (HRLA) is supporting Lyle Shelton in his legal battle. Lyle is appealing a decision by the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, which ruled that his blog posts about a drag queen story hour event for children in a Brisbane library did not constitute vilification. The legal process, as Shelton and Rasanen have both noted, serves as a form of punishment in itself, as they both now await a further trial.

A religious discrimination act for Australia is long overdue. People of faith deserve robust protections in law to ensure they are not penalised for expressing their faith in public, as opponents of Christianity have shown themselves increasingly determined to silence and punish those who do.

The work of organisations like HRLA and ADF International has never been more important.

Read more about the work of HRLA here.