Censorship warnings if Christian MP and bishop are convicted of hate speech

Finnish Parliamentarian Päivi Räsänen(Photo: ADF International)

A Christian MP and bishop were on trial in Finland on Monday for publicly expressing their beliefs on marriage and sexuality.

Päivi Räsänen, former Finnish Minister of the Interior, is facing three criminal charges for sharing her beliefs in a pamphlet on marriage in 2004, comments she made during a radio show discussion in 2019, and a tweet with a picture of a bible passage.

Bishop Juhana Pohjola is facing one charge over his involvement in the marriage pamphlet, which he refused to remove from his church's website. 

Both of them share the charge of "ethnic agitation", which falls under the section of "war crimes and crimes against humanity" in the Finnish criminal code.

They have both pleaded not guilty. The court has now adjourned, with closing arguments to resume on 14 February. 

Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International, which is representing the pair, told GB News that although a guilty verdict would not set an immediate legal precedent across Europe, "it will set a new European low bar for free speech standards."

He said that people in Finland had found the case "very shocking" but warned that "it really could happen anywhere else" because of hate speech laws across Europe. 

"These laws are nebulous, they're incredibly vague and subjective, and as a result of that they can be enforced arbitrarily which means at any given moment, if you have the right police, the right prosecutor and a quarter of a century of speech to comb through to find something, then you can make a case out of pretty much anything and that applies across the entire continent," he said. 

Asked about hate speech laws in the UK, Coleman said things looked to be getting worse, not better. 

"Unfortunately things are trending in a more negative direction in the UK. Everything seems to be moving more and more in terms of more censorship," he said.

"Rather than the appetite being towards defending and protecting and upholding freedom of expression, the message that we receive from those in power is that we're going to have a better society if we can just censor more speech."

Christian protesters were outside the Finnish court on Monday in support of Räsänen and Pohjola. 

"We hold the same beliefs as Päivi Räsänen but are not prosecuted today," they told Christian Network Europe.

"The least we can do is support her by this demonstration and show the world that many people will not abandon the Biblical truths, no matter the consequences."

Ahead of the trial, Räsänen told ADF that she was more fearful of censorship than prison.

"Now it is time to speak. Because the more we are silent, the narrower the space for freedom of speech and religion grows. 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," she said. 

Coleman said he was trusting in the court to uphold free speech. 

"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," he said.

"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."