The trial against Dr. Päivi Räsänen, Member of Parliament, and Bishop Juhana Pohjola, ThD, started today 24 January 2022 at 9:30 am in Helsinki District Court. The case has attracted widespread interest in the Finnish and foreign media.This was reflected in the sizable presence of media representatives when the defendants arrived at the District Court. The Association for the Freedom of Speech and Religion also organized a demonstration of support for Dr. Räsänen and Rev. Dr. Pohjola outside the courthouse.
Maija Päivinen, District Prosecutor, read out the charges against Päivi Räsänen and Juhana Pohjola for incitement against a group of people. According to the prosecutor, Bishop Pohjola, by publishing the booklet Male and Female He Created Them – Homosexual relationships challenge the Christian concept of humanity [link] has made and kept available to the public an opinion that defames homosexuals as a group, because of their sexual orientation. According to the prosecutor, certain statements are discriminatory and exceed the limits of freedom of speech and religion.
In the indictment, Maija Päivinen, District Prosecutor, demanded that certain passages be removed from the publication and that Räsänen be fined a victim surcharge of at least 120 per diems and Pohjola of 60 per diems. In addition, the prosecutor demanded a corporate fine of a minimum of 10,000 euros for the Luther Foundation Finland, because a person belonging to its statutory body or other management, having actual power of decision in the legal person, had been a party to an offence.
Bishop Pohjola denied in court that he had committed the crime of incitement:
– “I am anxious about attending the first trial against me, but I am also happy that the case will finally be heard. We will be able to defend not only the Word of God, but also the right to freedom of expression. Via the freedom of speech, we do not want to offend or oppress anyone, but to tell of the goodness of God and His will.”
In the case against Päivi Räsänen, Member of Parliament, MD, there are two additional points in the summons. These concern a tweet published in June 2019 and a radio discussion aired in December 2019. In her statement of 20 January 2022, she said:
– “I await the court proceedings with a calm mind. I appeal to the Constitution of Finland and to international conventions that guarantee freedom of speech and religion. I will not back off from my conviction based on the Bible and I am ready to defend freedom of speech and religion in all necessary courts .”
– “In all the charges, I deny any wrongdoing. My writings and statements under investigation are linked to the Bible’s teachings on marriage, living as a man and a woman, as well as the Apostle Paul’s teaching on homosexual acts. The teachings concerning marriage and sexuality in the Bible arise from love of one’s neighbor, not from hate towards a group of people .”
According to Bishop Pohjola’s representative, Jyrki Anttinen, deputy advocate, the prosecutor took scripture statements out of context. The prosecutor’s assessment is selective and in no way objective. The text of the booklet has not been interpreted with due regard for the principles of freedom of expression and religion protected by the European Convention on Human Rights and the Finnish Constitution. In the Finnish legal system, ideological and scientific disagreements are not acceptable justifications for restricting freedom of expression.
Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola’s preliminary response stated that Räsänen’s writing is in no way threatening, defamatory or insulting. It does not contain any use of pejorative language. It is worth noting that the Christian concept of man, sin and marriage may offend someone as a matter of fact and belief, but the writing itself does not offend and is not intended to offend or degrade anyone’s dignity.
A demonstration of support for Päivi Räsänen and Juhana Pohjola was held outside Helsinki District Court before the trial. The purpose of the demonstration was to encourage and support Räsänen and Pohjola, who are accused of promoting the Christian marriage ethic, and of defending freedom of speech and religion in Finland. This was organized by the Association for the Freedom of Speech and Religion. According to the police, there were 85 participants. Many people are concerned about the deteriorating situation of freedom of expression and religion in Finland.
Soili Haverinen, ThD candidate, the organiser of the demonstration, wished to extend her gratitude to all those who came to the demonstration and to those who participated from their homes:
-“Concerns about freedom of religion and freedom of expression clearly unite people from very different backgrounds. It is impossible not to take action in the face of this issue. I could very well be on trial myself now, as I too have brought up very similar issues in public. It is important that all Christians now act together on this, even if there are only two people on trial.”
The three judges of the Helsinki District Court are expected to return their verdict in the coming weeks or months.
Päivi Räsänen, MP, Press Releases of 24 January 2022 and 20 January 2022 [link]
Indictment (dated 29 January 2021) [link]