Finnish parliamentarian found not guilty of 'hate speech' for Bible tweet, other expressions
Appeal court unanimously dismisses all charges against Päivi Räsänen, Bishop Juhana Pohjola following high-profile free speech trial
HELSINKI – In a victory for free speech, the Helsinki Court of Appeal has dismissed all charges against Finnish Member of Parliament Päivi Räsänen and Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola, who were both tried for “hate speech” in August after publicly expressing their Christian beliefs.
In a unanimous ruling that upheld the district court’s March 2022 unanimous acquittal, the appeal court dismissed the arguments of the state prosecutor. It found that it “has no reason, on the basis of the evidence received at the main hearing, to assess the case in any respect differently from the District Court. There is therefore no reason to alter the final result of the District Court’s judgment.”
“I am deeply relieved. The court has fully endorsed and upheld the decision of the district court, which recognized everyone’s right to free speech,” said Räsänen after her victory. “It isn’t a crime to tweet a Bible verse or to engage in public discourse with a Christian perspective. The attempts made to prosecute me for expressing my beliefs have resulted in an immensely trying four years, but my hope is that the result will stand as a key precedent to protect the human right to free speech. I sincerely hope other innocent people will be spared the same ordeal for simply voicing their convictions.”
The court has ordered the prosecution to pay tens of thousands in legal fees to cover costs incurred by both defendants. The prosecution could appeal a final time to the Supreme Court, with a deadline of Jan. 15, 2024.
Räsänen, Finland’s former Interior Minister and a grandmother of 11, was formally charged with “agitation against a minority group” in 2021 under a section of the Finnish criminal code titled “war crimes and crimes against humanity” for sharing her Christian beliefs on marriage and sexual ethics in a 2019 tweet, in addition to a 2019 live radio debate and 2004 church pamphlet. Pohjola was charged for publishing Räsänen’s 2004 pamphlet. The case has garnered global media attention as human rights experts voiced concern over the threat posed to free speech.
“At the heart of the prosecutor’s examination of Räsänen was this: Would she recant her beliefs? The answer was no—she would not deny the teachings of her faith,” said ADF International Executive Director Paul Coleman, who serves on Räsänen’s legal team. “The cross-examination bore all the resemblance of a ‘heresy’ trial of the Middle Ages; it was implied that Räsänen had ‘blasphemed’ against the dominant orthodoxies of the day.”
“Päivi Räsänen, a member of the Finish Parliament, faced criminal charges for tweeting a Bible verse. Her acquittal is a monumental victory for free speech,” said ADF and ADF International CEO, President, and General Counsel Kristen Waggoner. “Päivi’s case serves as a stark reminder of the rising tide of censorship on a global scale. With cases pending in Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Africa, Alliance Defending Freedom will not relent in championing the cause of free speech as a human right. The right to live and speak the truth is held as sacrosanct in the U.S., but the recent U.S. Supreme Court case 303 Creative v Elenis is just the latest demonstration that American government is not immune to authoritarian impulses. What happened to Päivi should not happen in any free society.”
Coordinated by ADF International, Räsänen’s legal defense highlighted the strong protection that freedom of speech enjoys in international law, in addition to being integral to Finnish democracy.
The appeal court recognized that, “there is no reason to alter the final result of the District Court’s judgment,” which had recognized that while some may object to Räsänen’s statements, “there must be an overriding social reason for interfering with and restricting freedom of expression.” The district court had concluded that there was no such justification stating that, “it is not for the District Court to interpret biblical concepts.”
“While we celebrate this monumental victory, we also remember that it comes after four years of police investigations, criminal indictments, prosecutions, and court hearings,” said Coleman, who authored the book “Censored: How European Hate Speech Laws are Threatening Freedom of Speech.” “We applaud the Helsinki Court of Appeal’s ruling in this case. It is a momentous decision upholding the fundamental right to free speech. In a free and democratic society, all should be allowed to share their beliefs without fear of censorship. Criminalizing speech through so-called ‘hate-speech’ laws shuts down important public debates and poses a grave threat to our democracies. We are relieved to see courts enforce the rule of law when state authorities overstep by seeking to penalize and censor statements that they dislike.”
ADF International will host a press conference on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. EST. Räsänen, Pohjola, and Coleman will be available for questions after their statements. Participate online at this link.
To learn more details about the case and to support Räsänen, visit https://www.adfinternational.org/FreeSpeechOnTrial.
- Pronunciation guide: Päivi Räsänen (PI’-vee RAHZ’-uh-nen)
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.
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