A protracted court battle is not over for a Finnish MP and bishop after the country’s state prosecutor announced it would appeal a recent ‘not guilty’ verdict.
Charges were brought against Päivi Räsänen, former Minister of the Interior, and Bishop Juhana Pohjola after they shared their Christian beliefs on marriage and sexual ethics in a 2004 pamphlet.
Räsänen faced further charges relating to a 2019 tweet and comments she made in a radio discussion the same year.
They stood trial in 2022 and were found not guilty but were forced to stand trial again last year after the state prosecutor appealed the original verdict.
They were cleared of all ‘hate speech’ charges for the second time by the Helsinki Court of Appeals last November.
In its ruling handed down on 14 November 2023, the court stated 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.”
The Supreme Court must now decide whether it will hear the case.
Commenting on the latest development, Räsänen said she was prepared to fight to the end.
“After my full exoneration in two courts, I’m not afraid of a hearing before the Supreme Court,” she said.
“Even though I am fully aware that every trial carries risks, an acquittal from the Supreme Court would set an even stronger positive precedent for everyone’s right to free speech and religion.
“And if the Court decided to overturn the lower courts’ acquittals, I am ready to defend freedom of speech and religion as far as the European Court of Human rights, if necessary.”
Paul Coleman, Executive Director of the Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF), which is supporting Räsänen’s legal defence, expressed alarm at the state prosecutor’s decision to continue pursuing the case.
“The state’s insistence on continuing this prosecution despite such a clear and unanimous ruling by both the Helsinki District Court and Court of Appeal is alarming,” he said.
“Dragging people through the courts for years, subjecting them to hour-long police interrogations, and wasting taxpayer money in order to police people’s deeply held beliefs has no place in a democratic society.
“As is so often the case in ‘hate speech’ trials, the process has become of the punishment.”