A Finnish court has announced a date for a hearing to determine whether a former government minister should be jailed after tweeting a Bible verse.
The Helsinki District Court said the case involving Päivi Räsänen, a doctor and mother of five, will be heard on January 24, 2022.
According to ADF International, a Christian legal group that supports her, Räsänen could be sentenced to two years in prison or fined for the tweet, after the Finnish attorney general filed criminal charges against her on April 29.
The MP could also face an additional jail term if she is convicted of two more alleged offenses related to her comments in a 2004 brochure and on a 2018 TV show, the group said.
Räsänen said: “I await the legal proceedings with a calm mind, confident that Finland will respect the freedom of expression and religion enshrined in fundamental rights and international conventions.
“I will not back down on my belief based on the Bible and I am ready to defend freedom of speech and religion in all necessary courts.”
“I cannot accept that the expression of religious beliefs can mean imprisonment. I will defend my right to confess my faith, so that no one else is deprived of their right to freedom of religion and expression.
The attorney general indicted Räsänen, who served as Finnish Home Minister from 2011 to 2015, with incitement against a minority group, arguing that his statements were “likely to provoke intolerance, contempt and hatred towards homosexuals ”.
Finland is a country of 5.5 million inhabitants, bordering Norway, Russia and Sweden. About two-thirds of the population belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, one of the country’s two national churches, alongside the Finnish Orthodox Church.
The 61-year-old MP, who was chair of the Christian Democratic Party from 2004 to 2015, is an active member of the Finnish Lutheran Church. But she questioned her church’s sponsorship of an LGBT pride event in 2019.
On June 17, 2019, she asked in a Message on Twitter how the sponsorship was compatible with the Bible, linked to a photograph of a Bible passage, Romans 1: 24-27, on Instagram. She also posted the text and image on Facebook.
“The goal [of] my tweet was in no way intended to insult sexual minorities. My criticism was aimed at church leaders, ”she told the First Things newspaper last year.
Police started investigating Räsänen in 2019. She faced several interviews with the police and had to wait over a year for the prosecutor’s decision.
Juhana Pohjola, bishop of the diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission of Finland, was also accused of publishing Räsänen’s pamphlet in 2004, “Man and Woman, He Created Them”.
Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International, said: “In a free society, everyone should be allowed to share their beliefs without fear of censorship. The decision of the Finnish Attorney General to bring these charges against Dr Räsänen creates a culture of fear and censorship.
“It is sad that such cases are becoming too frequent all over Europe. If hired officials like Päivi Räsänen are charged with having expressed their deep convictions, it creates a chilling effect on the right of everyone to express themselves freely.
The Lutheran International Council issued a statement in July describing the decision to prosecute Räsänen and Pohjola as “flagrant”.
He said: “The vast majority of Christians of all nations, including Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, share these beliefs. Would the Finnish Attorney General convict us all? In addition, does the Finnish state risk government sanctions from other states based on the abuse of basic human rights? “