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Finnish MP Päivi Räsänen Still in Court After ‘Hate Crime’ Charge for Quoting the Bible

The Helsinki Court of Appeal dismissed all charges against Finnish Member of Parliament Päivi Räsänen, but the prosecutor general has once again appealed.
Grant Atkinson
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Finland claims to protect free speech, but its prosecutor general is targeting Parliamentarian Dr. Päivi Räsänen for her beliefs

Across the world, the freedom of speech is recognized as one of the most fundamental human rights. All major human rights treaties protect this freedom, and every democratic society is reliant on the ability of its citizens to speak freely. As a democratic country, Finland claims to protect free speech. But its prosecutor general has spent years doing the opposite.

Free speech in Finland

Finland is generally considered one of the freest countries in the world. Section 12 of Finland’s Constitution guarantees the freedom of expression for “everyone,” which protects the rights of all people “to express, disseminate and receive information, opinions and other communications without prior prevention by anyone.”

In addition, Finland has signed the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Article 10 of the Convention states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.” These protections are supposed to ensure the right of everyone to express their beliefs freely.

The stated protections for free speech and other human rights have led Freedom House, an organization that measures political rights and civil liberties, to give Finland a perfect 100 out of 100 “freedom score” in 2022. The score suggests Finland is even freer than the United States, which Freedom House scored an 83 out of 100.

But despite these lofty promises, Finnish officials are blatantly attacking free speech. There is no clearer example of this fact than the actions taken by the country’s own prosecutor general against Dr. Päivi Räsänen.

Who is Dr. Päivi Räsänen?

Dr. Päivi Räsänen is a medical doctor and elected official in Finland. She has served as a member of the Finnish Parliament since 1995, and she was the chair of the Christian Democratic Party from 2004-2015. In addition, Dr. Räsänen served as Minister of the Interior from 2011 to 2015. She has five children and 11 grandchildren, and her Christian faith is a large part of her life.

Dr. Räsänen is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. In 2019, she posted a tweet questioning her church’s official partnership with the LGBT event “Pride 2019,” including a picture of some Bible verses. But this simple expression of her beliefs soon caused Dr. Räsänen to face criminal charges.

What happened to Dr. Päivi Räsänen?

As a result of her post questioning her church’s promotion of an LGBT event, Dr. Räsänen was accused of “hate speech.” Even though the tweet remains published on Twitter because it did not violate the platform’s own “hate speech” rules, Finland’s prosecutor general started pursuing criminal charges against Dr. Räsänen.

A few months after the tweet was posted, authorities opened an investigation into whether it constituted a crime of “ethnic agitation.” Section 10 of the Criminal Code of Finland says a person can be charged with “agitation against a minority group” if they spread “an expression of opinion or another message where a certain group is threatened, defamed or insulted on the basis of its race, skin color, birth status, national or ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation or disability or a comparable basis.”

Dr. Räsänen never disparaged anyone. She simply questioned whether her church’s embrace of an LGBT event was consistent with biblical teaching, which is her right. This free speech must be protected, especially in a country that prides itself on freedom. Instead, the prosecutor general seeks to punish Dr. Räsänen for her beliefs.

Three days after authorities opened their initial investigation into the tweet, the prosecutor general requested investigations into a pamphlet Dr. Räsänen had written in 2004 regarding her church’s teaching on human sexuality. This investigation also led to a criminal charge against the Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola, chairman of the International Lutheran Council, for publishing the pamphlet.

In April 2021, Finland’s prosecutor general brought three criminal charges against Dr. Räsänen—one for the 2004 pamphlet, one for the 2019 tweet, and a third for engaging in a debate about human sexuality on a 2019 live radio debate.

“I cannot accept that voicing my religious beliefs could mean imprisonment,” Dr. Räsänen said following the charges. “I do not consider myself guilty of threatening, slandering, or insulting anyone. My statements were all based on the Bible’s teachings on marriage and sexuality. I will defend my right to confess my faith, so that no one else would be deprived of their right to freedom of religion and speech.”

Victory for free speech at the district court

ADF International supported the defense of both Dr. Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola at a district court in Helsinki. In a unanimous ruling in March 2022, the court dismissed all charges against them. The court found in the ruling that it was “not for the district court to interpret biblical concepts,” and it ordered the prosecution to pay more than 60,000 Euros in legal costs. Dr. Räsänen responded with relief after the district court’s ruling in favor of free speech.

“I am so grateful the court recognized the threat to free speech and ruled in our favor,” she said. “I feel a weight has been lifted off my shoulders after being acquitted."

But Finland’s prosecutor general did not allow the case to end there.

How the prosecutor general has dragged out the case

Since the district court unanimously ruled to dismiss all charges, it should have been clear that the prosecutor general had no real case against Dr. Räsänen or Bishop Pohjola. In addition, police strongly recommended against prosecution in the first place. But instead of accepting the clear ruling, Finland’s prosecutor general decided to drag out criminal proceedings against Dr. Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola even further.

The prosecutor general appealed the district court’s decision, and on Nov. 14, 2023, the Helsinki Court of Appeal issued its ruling in Dr. Räsänen’s case. Just like the district court, the court of appeal unanimously acquitted her and the bishop of all the criminal charges brought against them.

Sadly, even after two unanimous rulings, the prosecutor general has still refused to respect the free speech rights of Dr. Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola, and in January 2024 appealed to the Finnish Supreme Court. In April, the court agreed to hear the case.

Dr. Räsänen’s case moves into its fifth year

Despite having been unanimously acquitted by two Finnish courts, Dr. Räsänen will now have to stand trial a third time as her case drags into its fifth year. ADF International Executive Director Paul Coleman said the prosecutor general has a clear reason for dragging out the case.

“The state’s insistence on continuing this prosecution after almost five long years, despite such clear and unanimous rulings from the lower courts is alarming,” Coleman said. “The process is the punishment in such instances, resulting in a chill on free speech for all citizens observing. ADF International will continue to stand alongside Räsänen and Pohjola every step of the way as they face their next day in court. Their right to speak freely is everyone’s right to speak freely.”

The prosecutor general did not appeal the charge relating to the radio debate, so Dr. Räsänen’s acquittal will stand. But the Finnish Supreme Court will review Dr. Räsänen’s charges for her 2019 tweet and 2004 pamphlet, as well as the charge against Bishop Pohjola for publishing the pamphlet.

Despite these repeated and targeted attacks, Dr. Räsänen hasn’t lost faith.

Commenting on the Supreme Court’s decision to hear her case, Räsänen said she had a “peaceful mind” and is “ready to continue to defend free speech and freedom of religion before the Supreme Court, and if need be, also before the European Court of Human Rights.” 


Free speech is an integral part of any democratic society. Everyone should be free to express their own beliefs without fear of government punishment or censorship.

While Finland claims to protect free speech, it prosecuted two of its citizens simply for sharing their beliefs. And by dragging out the case, the country’s prosecutor general is using the legal process to punish Dr. Räsänen for her views. Speech will not be free in Finland until prosecutors stop using vague allegations of “hate speech” to target citizens for peacefully voicing their beliefs.

These sorts of attacks on free speech cannot be allowed to stand. No one should have to spend years in court for expressing their beliefs. If biblical truths can come under attack in Finland, they can come under attack in other countries, too.

Dr. Räsänen’s case is a stark reminder of the rising tide of censorship across the globe, but it’s also a reminder that free speech for all is a winning proposition. That’s why we must continue defending and pursuing laws that explicitly protect free speech around the world.

Learn more about the efforts of ADF and ADF International to combat censorship.

Grant Atkinson serves as Jr. Digital Writer at Alliance Defending Freedom
Grant Atkinson
Digital Writer
Grant serves as a Digital Writer at Alliance Defending Freedom.