Finnish prosecutor revives hate speech charges against Christian politician

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A Finnish evangelical Christian who is a member of parliament was recently acquitted of hate speech charges for saying homosexuality was a sin, but she is not yet off the hook.

On Friday, the country’s attorney general appealed the not guilty verdict of Päivi Räsänen, who called his legal battle a “biblical trial”.

Unlike many countries, Finnish laws allow a prosecutor to appeal a “not guilty” verdict.

When the prosecutor first signaled his intention to appeal, the decision was slammed by Paul Coleman, an Alliance Defending Freedom International lawyer who is defending Ms Räsänen.

“Dragging people to court for years, subjecting them to hour-long police interrogations, and wasting taxpayers’ money to control people’s deeply held beliefs has no place in a democratic society. As is so often the case in ‘hate speech’ trials, the process is now part of the punishment,” Mr. Coleman said.

In Helsinki on March 30 acquitted Ms Räsänen, who is also a former interior minister, of “hate speech” for her statements on Twitter, on the radio and in a 2004 book defending the traditional Christian view of marriage and of sexuality.

In exonerating Ms Räsänen, a three-judge panel wrote that “it is not for the district court to interpret biblical concepts.” The judges ordered the attorney general to pay 60,000 euros, or $63,228.42, to cover the defendant’s legal costs.

Now the prosecutor wants another attempt on Ms. Räsänen.

She said she was the victim of an overzealous prosecutor and false accusations.

“This legal procedure against me, with all the investigations and interrogations, has already lasted almost three years and now it looks like it will last for years to come,” Ms Räsänen said in an email. “For me, the hardest part was hearing the prosecutor’s false accusations about my statements. It would be better for the prosecutor to stick to what I said, instead of continuing to make false statements and allegations in court.

She expects the case will eventually go to Finland’s Supreme Court and possibly even the European Court of Human Rights.

“I stand ready to defend freedom of expression and religion in any court necessary,” she said.

Days after his acquittal, prosecutor Raija Toiviainen said she was unhappy with the verdict and rejected the court’s claim that “false information” had been provided in the indictment.

“There is nothing wrong with the charges. The prosecutor today expressed his displeasure with the whole verdict,” Ms Toiviainen’s office said after the trial.

The prosecutor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ms Räsänen said she stood by her statements as real.

“The prosecutor asserts in this appeal that I said in the 2004 pamphlet that ‘all homosexuals are and should be considered inferior,'” she said. “I have never said this and I do not share this point of view now or in the past. On the contrary, in the pamphlet, I affirm that “according to the Christian conception of humanity, everyone, regardless of or sexual orientation, is equal and of equal value”.

The case began in 2019 after Ms Räsänen tweeted about Finland’s state-backed Lutheran Church backing a gay pride parade. She said her message, citing a Bible verse on homosexuality, was meant to rebuke church officials, not shame gay people. She also made similar claims in a radio interview and in the 2004 booklet.

Ms Räsänen’s case has attracted international support with rallies across Europe and, last September, outside the Finnish Embassy in Washington.

In April, the National Committee for Religious Freedom, led by former US Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, said: Ms. Toiviainen “does not believe that religious speech is freedom of expression. We must not let government officials decide what religions can teach.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the National Committee for Religious Liberty.

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