Documentary on Päivi Räsänen case set for next-year release
A documentary on the prosecution and trial of Finnish politician, Päivi Räsänen, is currently in production. Entitled “Free Speech Crime,” the film is a visual journey into the legal battle involving the former chairwoman of the Christian Democratic Party. For the last few years, the Räsänen case has caught the eyes of both legal experts and Christians from around the world. The documentary, however, might not be watchable before autumn next year.
Director, Matti Reinikka, from Agendadoc, says that he hopes the documentary will serve as a warning for those concerned about freedom of speech and religion. Reinikka is also the director of Musikittalo: Alkusoitto (Music Hall: Prelude) as well as Seinäjoen Arabikevät (Arab Spring in Bottomlands).
“There has been special interest in this case, e.g. from Hungary, Poland and the United States, but we really believe that the interest is great everywhere,” he said.
The film takes us back to June 2019 when Päivi Räsänen, posted a tweet in response to the nation’s Pride Week event. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland was listed as a sponsor of the event, which prompted the former Minister of Interior to challenge its stance. “How can the Church’s doctrinal foundation, the Bible, be compatible with elevating sin and shame as reasons for pride?” she asked in the tweet. Räsänen also included a photo of the Biblical passage, Romans 1:24-27, which describes humanity stepping away from God’s plan and exchanging the natural for the unnatural.
After her post, prosecutors sought to press hate speech charges, according to previous reporting by CNE. Attorney General, Raija Toiviainen and the state prosecution team viewed the Bible verse quotation as an act of insult toward “homosexuals as a group” as well as a way to view them as “inferior” compared to others.
Six months later, Räsänen appeared on a radio show called “What did Jesus think about gay people?” When asked a question about traditional marriage, she answered that it was “self-evident that God did not originally create humans as homosexuals. He created a man and a woman and meant for them to be married to each other. And it is clearly against God’s will and sin if you have other types of sexual relations,” she said. The prosecution viewed her comments as “derogatory,” claiming that Räsänen believed that homosexuals were not created equally by God. Räsänen stood on trial between January and February 2022, which has been captured on film. Her legal team has denied the prosecution’s remarks; alleging that they made libellous claims on her statements.
Prosecutors also took issue with a booklet that Räsänen had written for the Luther Foundation in 2004. According to reporting from Finland’s public broadcasting, YLE, the prosecution claimed that the book, “Male and Female He created them” contains “intolerant” statements such as seeing homosexuals as inferior and broken people who are prone to abusing children.
However, the Helsinki District Court saw it differently. Räsänen’s writing was not meant to offend homosexuals but to “defend the concept of family and marriage between a man and a woman, according to her religious beliefs,” the Court said in the article. Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola, the booklet’s publisher and director of the Luther foundation, had also appeared in court with Räsänen.
Amid the accusations, the Räsänen case remains one of the few in Europe to have someone prosecuted over an interpretation of a Biblical passage.
“I think the biggest scandal of the whole trial is that the prosecutor accused Räsänen about something she never said or wrote. The whole case is ideological,” Reinikka said regarding the case. As the prosecution’s false claims continue to spread within international media, Räsänen has found it difficult to correct them, he also said.
Now that over 100 hours of material have been captured, most of the significant events have happened. However, the crew is waiting on one more to unfold. The Court of Appeals trial is set to take place in August 2023. CNE reported that in March 2022, Räsänen was acquitted from all charges. Later, the prosecutor appealed the decision, which has led to the case being prolonged.
While over 90 percent of the film may be finished, challenges continue. Reinikka says that funding remains the biggest hurdle. Crowdfunding has allowed the team to pay for travel expenses and rent out equipment. Crowdfunding profiles have been set up on the Christian-based fundraising site, GiveSendGo as well as the documentary’s website. So far, they have raised 15 percent of their 50,000 Euro goal on their website. Reinikka also says that while the GiveSendGo account is not the primary source of funding, it remains important in improving the post-production quality.
Distribution is another challenge Reinikka says, as they can no longer rely on YLE (Finland’s public broadcasting channel) to air their upcoming documentary. YLE had almost cut Reinikka’s documentary, Arab Spring in Bottomlands (Seinäjoen arabikevät) from the air after a dispute over removing “Islam-critical” comments in the documentary. Reinikka says that YLE threatened to break the contract and demand compensation if he did not remove the footage. The film aired without the cuts only after making the case public. However, he is afraid that YLE will do something similar with his upcoming documentary. He has also applied to the Finnish Film Foundation a few times, but their requests have been ignored.
Despite the disappointments, Reinikka continues to work on a final release date, which is now set for autumn 2023.
“We saw right from the beginning that the case is also internationally significant and possibly a precedent for how the Bible can be used to defend marriage between a man and a woman,” he said.
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