Päivi Räsänen 'hopeful' after 'hate speech' trial

Finnish politician Päivi Räsänen.(Photo: ADF International)

The Finnish politician Päivi Räsänen has said she is "hopeful" that all the charges against her will be dropped after standing trial for a second time week. 

Finland's former Minister of the Interior was on trial for "hate speech" over three expressions of her Christian faith on marriage and sexuality -  in a tweet, in a 2004 church pamphlet, and in a 2019 radio interview.

She was charged with "agitation against a minority group", which falls under Finland's "war crimes and crimes against humanity" laws. 

She was acquitted last year by the Helsinki District Court but is standing trial again after the prosecution appealed. 

During the two-day hearing in the Helsinki Court of Appeal, the prosecution said, "The point isn't whether it is true or not but that it is insulting.

"We can limit freedom of expression in the outward expression of religion.

"You can cite the Bible, but it is Räsänen's interpretation and opinion about the Bible verses that are criminal."

Räsänen stood trial alongside Bishop Juhana Pohjola, who was charged with "hate speech" for publishing the pamphlet written by Räsänen. 

Addressing the court, the bishop defended the right to free speech. 

"Condemning sinful deeds does not mean questioning a person's worth and dignity. These are completely different things. The prosecutor is propagating an understanding that is fully against the Christian understanding. Condemning sin does not question a person's dignity," he said.

He continued, "The very idea of religious freedom is that you are free to teach the Christian message, even if someone finds it offensive, but then you can exercise your right not to listen."

Speaking after the conclusion of the trial on Friday, Räsänen said, "I'm hopeful that all these charges will be acquitted.

"It's a very important verdict for freedom of speech and of religion and Finland, and also has consequences across Europe, but I'm hopeful for a good result." 

Her legal counsel, Paul Coleman, executive director of the Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF), said, "The gist of the State prosecutor's examination of Päivi was this: would she recant her beliefs? The answer was no – she will not deny the teachings of her faith.

"Dragging an individual through a grueling criminal trial simply for expressing their religious beliefs is not a marker of democracy and 'progress'.

"We will continue to stand with Päivi and await the decision of the court as to whether expressing Biblical teaching is really a crime in Finland." 

The court is expected to deliver a verdict by November 30.