(CP) Finnish Member of Parliament Päivi Räsänen, who was acquitted a year ago after being prosecuted for voicing her traditional Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality, is still on the defence as she faces a second trial over her biblical beliefs, her lawyers say.
In a statement last week commemorating the first anniversary since her unanimous acquittal by a three-judge panel of the Helsinki District Court, the legal group supporting her defence, ADF International, says Räsänen could still have to pay tens of thousands in fines as prosecutors continue to demand that Räsänen's views be censored.
Although the court dismissed hate speech charges against Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, the prosecutor appealed the not guilty verdict last April.
The former interior minister and religious leader faced prosecution for their roles in creating and publishing a 2004 pamphlet titled Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual relationships challenge the Christian concept of humanity.
Räsänen also faced criminal charges for a 2019 tweet criticizing the leadership of the Finnish Lutheran Church for supporting LGBT pride month.
The court ruled that "it is not for the district court to interpret biblical concepts."
"By continuing its campaign to censor peaceful beliefs, the prosecution is setting a dangerous precedent of intolerance against free speech," Räsänen, former leader of Finland's Christian Democratic Party, said in a statement.
"I will keep fighting for free speech because it is the cornerstone of a free and democratic society. I am hopeful the appeal court will make the same decision as the district court and acquit me again."
Räsänen's case attracted global media attention and drew concern from human rights experts about the state of free speech in Finland.
ADF International's Executive Director Paul Coleman described the situation as a "new low" for free speech in Europe.
"When a longstanding and respected Finnish parliamentarian is put on trial twice for sharing her deeply held beliefs in a tweet four years ago, you know regard for free speech in Europe has hit a new low," Coleman said.
Police investigations against Räsänen began in June 2019, following a tweet in which she questioned her church's sponsorship of the LGBT event Pride 2019, accompanied by an image of Bible verses from the New Testament book of Romans. Subsequent investigations led to charges based on a church pamphlet she wrote nearly 20 years ago.
Räsänen attended 13 hours of police interrogations. She was frequently asked by police to explain her understanding of the Bible. Despite police recommendations not to continue the prosecution, Finland's prosecutor general brought three criminal charges against her in April 2021.
Räsänen's statements did not violate the policies of Twitter or the national broadcaster, and they remained freely available on their platforms, ADF International noted.
Räsänen insists that she has no ill will toward the LGBT community and claims those accusing her of hate speech are the ones dabbling in hatred.
"We all are sinners and we need Jesus. But now, I think there is a heavy hatred against Christian values in our society," Räsänen earlier told The Christian Post. "If you speak about gender issues — that there are two genders or that marriage belongs to one woman and one man — it arouses hatred against you in our society."
During the court hearings in early 2022, Räsänen's defense argued that finding her guilty would significantly damage free speech in Finland, as her statements were protected expressions of Christian teaching. The court agreed, stating that "there must be an overriding social reason for interfering with and restricting freedom of expression." The court found no such justification.
Following her acquittal, Räsänen expressed willingness to defend freedom of speech at every level, including the European Court of Human Rights if need be.
Räsänen has served as a Finnish Member of Parliament since 1995, was chair of the Christian Democrats and was the interior minister from 2011-2015.