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European Evangelical Alliance demands Finland respect MP’s religious freedom rights

Päivi Räsänen, MP

The European Evangelical Alliance has written to the Finnish Government, urging it to respect the religious freedom of its parliamentarians, one of whom is facing six years imprisonment for sharing her opinion on marriage and human sexuality.

EEA General Secretary Thomas Bucher said in a letter that he’s “dismayed” to hear of the charges filed against the Finnish Member of Parliament and former Minister of the Interior, Päivi Räsänen, who is facing two years in prison for three of her each alleged crimes.

“The police were asked to investigate three incidents of supposed ‘hate speech,’ or more precisely in Finnish law ‘ethnic agitation,’” Bucher wrote.

“On each occasion, they concluded that there was no case to answer. In the case of a brochure published in 2004, the police added that, if it was decided that biblical views were considered per se to count as agitation, then it would have to become a crime to make the Bible available,” he insisted.

Räsänen was charged with hate speech for publicly voicing her opinion on marriage and human sexuality in a 2004 pamphlet, comments made on a TV show in 2018, and a tweet directed at her church leadership.

The Public Prosecutor’s office told Christian Today last week that Räsänen’s statements on marriage and sexuality could be described as “discriminatory hate speech” and are “punishable” under Finnish law.

However, Bucher wrote in the letter that “in all three situations for which she stands trial, Päivi Räsänen’s actions do not cross the (United Nation’s) Rabat (Plan of Action) threshold for hate speech. The context, content and form of her words were fine. There is no hint of intent, likelihood or imminence of acts of hatred happening.”

Bucher asked if the Public Prosecutor is “attempting to redefine human rights law?

He stressed, “Freedom of expression gives the right for anyone to share their opinion. The right to freedom of expression exists to legally protect those that express views which may offend, shock or disturb others.”

The politician, who is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and former chair of the Christian Democrats, has been under police investigation since June 2019.

A member of Parliament since 1995, Räsänen recently said she would “defend my right to confess my faith so that no one else would be deprived of their right to freedom of religion and speech.” 

“I will not back down from my views. I will not be intimidated into hiding my faith. The more Christians keep silent on controversial themes, the narrower the space for freedom of speech gets,” she added.

The Austria-based Christian legal group ADF International is representing Räsänen, a medical doctor, mother of five and grandmother of six.

“The Finnish Prosecutor General’s decision to bring these charges against Dr Räsänen creates a culture of fear and censorship,” ADF International Executive Director Paul Coleman said in a recent statement. “It is sobering that such cases are becoming all too common throughout Europe. If committed civil servants like Päivi Räsänen are criminally charged for voicing their deeply held beliefs, it creates a chilling effect for everyone’s right to speak freely.”

Her exclusive interview with S4C can be found here.

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