Liveblog (closed): Second day of hearing in case against Finnish MP Päivi Räsänen
The Finnish Christian politician Päivi Räsänen has to appear in court on Monday for the second time. She faces three criminal charges for her statements about the Biblical teaching on homosexuality. Follow the trial live with updates from our reporter in Finland, Danielle Miettinen. (This blog uses Central European Time (CET), which is one hour ahead of Eastern European Time (EET) in Helsinki, Finland.)
15:17 Impression around the courtroom Monday afternoon, after closing the session. Räsänen is very present. She is looking back on this day quite positively. It's her face that dominates in the media, bishop Pohjola less so.
This court case is about the relation between Christian belief and sexual rights. In almost all Western countries, there are comparable cases, or there is the same debate. For that reason, media from many countries come to Helsinki to report about this.
15:14 The date of the decision is unexpectedly late. The expectation was that the judges would decide within one month. But they are taking at least six weeks now, until Wednesday March 30th.
15:00 Before going home, Räsänen answers questions from the press again. On the left, Päivi's husband Niilo Räsänen.
This is a historical court case, says Räsänen to the media. For that reason, there is so much attention from abroad. Looking back on this second day in court, Päivi is quite happy. "The defence was strong. I trust that the decision will be a relief. Everyone can read the pamphlet, listen to the radio program, and understand this for himself. This goes into the depths of religious freedom and the core message of the Bible. Every human being is sinful. But Jesus came to suffer for our sins. Therefore: hate the sin, love the sinner."
14:54 The session of the court is ended now.
14:51 The judge opens again. He announces that the decision will be made public on Wednesday March 30th, 1 o'clock in the afternoon (Helsinki time; 12 o'clock CET). The judge promises that the lawyers and the accused won't have to hear the decision from the media.
14:47 Looking around on Twitter, it strikes that most of the tweeps are supporting Räsänen. The same at the demonstration this morning. It seems that the prosecutor has not many openly supporters.
14:44 A person on Twitter uses the break to mention that this hearing is on Valentine's day. That is no surprise. But Valentine died as a Christian martyr.
14:39 Video in tweet of the handing-over of signatures from the US by the missionary Andrew Brunson:
14:37 The court takes a break.
14:28 The prosecutor repeats her penalty claim: 120 day's fine for Räsänen and 60 for Pohjola. This depends on the person's income. Räsänen is assessed at 9600 Euros per month; Mr Pohjola around 4000 Euros. The prosecutor thinks that Räsänen has a strong intention, as a well-known politician. A harsh punishment, therefore, is suitable.
14:20 The bishop's defence says that speaking about sin cannot be criminalised. The basic Christian teaching is rooted in the Christian anthropology: creation, fall and redemption. If this pamphlet is criminalised, it criminalises basically the teaching that sex belongs to marriage. The Christian understanding of the law as the drawer to the Gospel would be lost if the prosecutor's allegations would be seen as correct.
14:18 Also Anttinen states that the prosecutor has not read the pamphlet correctly. She does not read the whole text.
14:16 Pohjola has the same responsibility as an administrator of a website. He should have had an intention to insult by making and holding the pamphlet available. But he has had no intention to do anything that he is accused about.
14:06 Anttinen stresses that the prosecutor's reference to the constitution is wrong, since the constitution is not applicable in the criminal court. What is on the table is the penal code. The interpretation of that is bound to the letter of the law and the purpose of the legislature. Communication between people must not be restricted more than is necessary according to the law.
14:04 Jyrki Anttinen gets the floor. He is for the defence of the Lutheran bishop Pohjola.
The charges against Pohjola are part of the Räsänen case, because his foundation published the controversial booklet in 2004.
14:01 To finish Sankamo's speech: According to everything that was said in court and shown, the defence claims that no offence of any law has been committed. Therefore, all charges should be abandoned.
13:59 Sankamo states that the prosecutor was not able to prove that Räsänen had a motive to insult. She has explicitly said the opposite. She has stressed the unreduced value of all human beings and equal human rights.
13:57 According to the defence, Mrs Räsänen did not want to speak about homosexuality on the radio. The host wanted. Therefore she asked in the program: Why do you bring up this topic? The host answered very openly: Because the topic sells.
13:55 If these expressions by Mrs Räsänen will be criminalised, any open debate in society will be impossible. Because a person with a different point of view has always to be careful about how to express himself in order not to insult the other party.
13:50 And then, about the radio program. In 2019 Räsänen has been guest in a satirical show (in Finnish) in which she received questions about her understanding of marriage, ethics and homosexuality. The prosecutor has understood from the recording of this program that the MP said: homosexuality is a genetic deterioration. But the problem is, she has not said that and she does not think that at all. On the contrary, she has explicitly stated that all humans are equal and no one's value can be reduced.
13:47 At the bottom, this case is about Räsänen's understanding of sin. Shame and sin are religious terms. The core issue at the moment of the tweet was: should the Lutheran church take part in the Pride movement's parade? Räsänen expressed an opinion about that. The discussion in society cannot be healthy if the minority's position is criminalised.
13:42 The prosecutor has been reading the law of Moses (in the Old Testament of the Bible, ed.). And then she asked my client what her interpretation of the Bible is. This is strongly against the European Court of Human Rights' principles. The prosecuted should not defend her or his religious beliefs. Otherwise, that would bring the court in the position to evaluate the content of the Bible and the interpretation of that.
13:39 The prosecutor has said that Räsänen has a "fundamentalist" reading of the Bible. But it is not the state or the prosecutor to evaluate Räsänen's interpretation of the Bible. In this court, we only look at the tweet in connection to the law.
13.32 The pamphlet that is being spoken about is a brochure written by Päivi Räsänen, called "Male and female He created them".
Although the original publication in 2004 was in Finnish (and even almost forgotten), there is an English version available now.
13:30 If the law is being used in this way, there is a danger of the so-called chilling effect: the threat that in an open democracy can be no political debate about delicate issues. Sakamo therefore asks the judges to read the pamphlet carefully. "You will not find the opinions that the prosecutor alleges Räsänen to hold."
13:27 The defence states that the prosecutor is reporting things falsely. For instance, in the pamphlet, the prosecutor does not look at the context in which things are said. It is impossible to understand the text as a whole stating these things, namely that homosexuals are not equal and they are perverted and their rights should not be protected.
13:21 The prosecutor says that it is legal to have an opinion. But after that, she says that to think that homosexuals need some cure or treatment is not an acceptable opinion. By the way, Räsänen has not been speaking about this issue. But it shows that the prosecutor is prosecuting on the basis of an opinion. And the opinion is that homosexual acts may not be called sinful.
13:20 What Räsänen has said, has always been legal to say.
13:18 Finland has a long tradition of an open and free society. Freedom of speech is very important. To say that somebody is guilty of inciting against an ethnic group must be justified strongly.
13:07 It is not possible to speak about insulting and hate speech without a clear motive to discriminate and stir up hatred. He refers to the Finnish criminal law 11.10. The prosecutor, however, has not been speaking from the law, but from value judgments.
13:01 Räsänen's legal advisor Matti Sankomo starts with his defence of the MP. According to him, the prosecutor is quoting irrelevant material as the basis of the prosecutor's claim. His client stands for the prohibition of discrimination. But the prosecutor says that it is a criminal act to defend the classical Christian understanding of (homo)sexuality. That is quite something, he says.
12:55 Before the court session opened, this morning Räsänen was met by the Rev. Andrew Brunson. He was an Evangelical missionary from the USA to Turkey for 23 years. He was imprisoned in Turkey during the unrest in 2016 on suspicion of terrorism. Two years later, he was released. After that, he went back to the USA and was received by President Trump in the White House. He brought a file with signatures with support for Räsänen from America.
12:50 During a short break, Räsänen spoke with her two legal advisers, Jyrki Anttinen and Matti Sankamo.
12:44 The prosecutor finishes and the court takes a short break.
12:41 Räsänen has never excused herself for expressing her opinion. In the contrary, she has used the mass media to defend her statements and spread them even further.
12:33 Räsänen has never altered any word of what she has said about this. Although people have let her know that her sayings are insulting. A human being is what he feels he is. That is what the constitution protects: the autonomy of every person.
12:26 The prosecutor sums up: I highlight that everyone has the right to think what he or she wants to think. But here we deal with outspoken opinions. Räsänen is not responsible for what the Bible teaches or what the apostle Paus says. But she is responsible for what she is saying herself.
12:24 Räsänen called it a "shame" to be a homosexual, says the prosecutor, referring to the tweet by Päivi. With that tweet, she criticised the Lutheran church for not taking part in this discriminating language.
12:22 The prosecutor refers to Michael Dirby, an Australian top-lawyer, who fights for gay rights. He says that Räsänen's dogma that homosexual acts are sinful, is insulting for the human dignity of gay people.
12:16 If Räsãnen forbids homosexual actions, this implies that she denies the human dignity of these people. The prosecutor understands that Räsänen thinks that homosexuals have to be told that they are sinful and that they can be forgiven by the grace of God only. By saying this, she sets herself above LGBT people.
12:14 The prosecutor tries to summarise Räsänen's opinion: Homosexuality is a developmental disorder and for that reason, the rights of gays should not be protected. By this, she insults a whole group and diminishes their common human dignity.
12:09 The prosecutor refers to the pamphlet "Male and female He created them". She says that in this booklet, Räsänen states that homosexuals as a group have a tendency to paedophilia.
12:05 Insulting speech and discrimination is therefore punishable. Even if the speech did not de facto have that intention. The same with a writer: the author is responsible for what he or she de facto writes.
12:02 The freedom of religion guarantees a certain freedom of expression too. But it does not protect all kinds of deeds and speech, and certainly no discrimination. Therefore, Räsänen is abusing human rights by demanding her right to insult minorities. She attacks the equal value of all people.
11:59 Yes, says the prosecutor, politicians have much freedom to express their opinions. But there is a limit: insulting words and hate speech cannot be protected by the law. Incitement against a group of people therefore can be a hate crime, even though the prosecuted does not incite to violence or hatred.
11:55 The prosecutor explains that minorities in Finland are not protected if the crime is not targeted at an individual. Therefore it is important for the state to protect these groups.
11:53 According to the prosecutor, hate crime is very harmful for sexual minorities. The police and the prosecutor therefore have to investigate strongly for his. Discrimination requires very careful investigation by the state, the prosecutor says.
11:45 The prosecutor starts by saying that outing an opinion is free, but this cannot be accepted if this is discriminating against others. The Bible cannot overrule Finnish law. States have to adopt a strong attitude against the discrimination of sexual minorities.
11:35 Everybody takes his place in the courtroom. The court is waiting already.
11:25 Räsänen says that last session in court (24 January, ed.), the prosecutor placed the Bible under discussion. But the courthouse is not the place to decide about the interpretation of the Scriptures, she says.
She expects an acquittal; that she will not be found guilty. "My statements are no hate speech", she says. "My motive is love because my opinion comes up from the loving Word of God."
11:20 Mrs Räsanen and bishop Pohjola arrived at the demonstration. Some media want to speak with them. Päivi Räsänen tells the media about the support she has received from all over the world. She reflects upon the last hearing on 24 January. She explains the centrality of the cross of Christ as the atonement for all sins. He died for the sinner; we are all sinners, she says.
11:00 Before the session starts, supporters of Räsänen and bishop Pohjola come together to show that she is not alone. One of the supporters is Henk-Jan van Schothorst, the Dutch director of Christian Council International (CCI), who especially went to Helsinki for this occasion.
Support from Moscow
The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has published a statement on its website to show support for Mrs Räsänen.
In a TV interview, Metropolitan Hilarion said he followed the case closely. “Her only “crime” was she quoted the Bible. And indeed, if quoting the Bible is now a crime in Finland, then what times are we living in,” he asked. “We say that the Bible is a divinely revealed book, and those moral commandments that are recorded in the Bible, especially if we talk about the New Testament (...), are those commandments that we cannot change, that no legislation, no new rules of political correctness can change, and therefore for us, they remain normative, they remain so for some Christians, including for Mrs Rasanen, who was not afraid to recall these biblical words. For this, she is now being prosecuted in prison, and she faces a prison term”, he said according to the Church’s website and Interfax.
In November, the ROC supported a statement signed by five denominations in Russia. It does not happen very often that the Orthodox Church acts together with other churches.
Rally in Budapest
In the Hungarian capital Budapest, there was a support rally in front of the Finnish embassy on Sunday afternoon.
The organisation says there were “thousands” of Hungarians together to support the freedom for Mrs Räsänen. According to the organisers, the trial is “not just a Finnish internal issue, but an international one”.
Räsänen disappointed in Finnish prosecutor
Liveblog (closed): Trial against Christian MP Pävi Räsänen will resume in February