In late winter 2022, three judges of the Helsinki District Court dismissed the charges in a case commonly known as the “Bible Tribunals”. Led by State Prosecutor Anu Mantila, the prosecution appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals. Now it is the turn of the three appeal court judges to hear the arguments of the prosecution and those of the defence and to make a decision on the freedom of religion and freedom of speech in Finland.
The prosecution argues that Päivi Räsänen’s writing Male and female He created them, her tweet about the Pride parade and her discussion on Ruben Stiller’s radio programme constitute incitement against a group of people. Thus far, the police concluded in a preliminary investigation that the booklet does not violate the law, and most recently the District Court reached the same conclusion.
The charges have attracted national and international attention as they have been assessed to endanger freedom of speech and religion. The legality of the charges has also been questioned. After the District Court’s decision, Yleisradio [Finnish Broadcasting Corporation] published a news item: “Prosecutor placed words into Päivi Räsänen’s mouth she had not said – YLE goes through the false allegations.” In a later YLE news item, State Prosecutor Anu Mantila expressed her dissatisfaction with the verdict, stating it was the Prosecutor’s duty to explain the meaning of Päivi Räsänen’s statements, i.e. how the statements should be interpreted objectively: “Prosecutor denies misrepresenting Päivi Räsänen’s statements – slams acquittal and explains differences in interpretation with a horse analogy.”
Despite the rainy weather, a large number of demonstrators had gathered in front of the Helsinki Court of Appeals early in the morning to defend freedom of speech and religion. Member of Parliament Päivi Räsänen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola both stopped by to greet the demonstration and chat with those present.
Bishop Juhana Pohjola thanked the participants of the demonstration:
“You are giving faces and voices to the thousands and thousands of Finns whose prayers and thoughts are here with us. I am not exaggerating when I say that millions of Christians around the world are praying today for this trial. Thank you for giving your faces and voices here in this place.”
Päivi Räsänen, Member of Parliament, greeted the demonstration by thanking for the support and recalling the words of the State Prosecutor in the District Court.
“I hope that the message of the Gospel can be heard. The state prosecutor in the district court said that my view is based on the international religious view “hate the sin and love the sinner”. I think that it went really deep into the heart of the Christian faith, because if you talk about sin, it is something that is between God and man. All of us humans are on the same level before God, because we are all equally sinners. We are all precious as we are created in the image of God. We are all in need of grace. I think that if this kind of thinking is denied, if it is denied that we are precious but sinful before God, in need of mercy, and that God loves the sinner, then the essence of Christianity is denied. That is why I find it absolutely impossible that the Court of Appeals could come to a decision that such teaching would be prohibited.”
The Court of Appeals also had a large number of media representatives in front of it and, as in the case of the District Court, the Court of Appeals proceedings were also broadcast live on several news broadcasts. The case, which is exceptional both in Finland and in Europe, is of great interest not only to the media but also to international NGOs working on freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Inside the Court of Appeals, reporters and NGO representatives interviewed Päivi Räsänen and Juhana Pohjola.
The Court of Appeal session began with the reading of the prosecutor’s appeal and the defendants’ replies. The prosecutor then wished to present principled points of view and legal sources before presenting the case, which is a departure from the normal order of the trial. In practice, the prosecutor made a presentation similar to a closing statement. The grounds for the presentation were essentially the same as in the district court, based on what the prosecutor called an “objective interpretation” of what Päivi Räsänen had said and written and what she had meant by them.
Päivi Räsänen’s legal counsel Matti Sankamo began his own presentation of the case by questioning the prosecutor’s chosen way of opening with a closing statement-type presentation and directly stating that the interpretations presented by the prosecutor were incorrect, even false. The defence’s case presented the factual content of the pamphlet, the tweet and the radio programme and clearly demonstrated how the prosecution’s interpretations were incorrect.
Jyrki Anttinen, legal counsel to Bishop Juhana Pohjola and the Luther Foundation of Finland, pointed out in the presentation of the case that the prosecution had violated the principle of criminal legality. The prosecution has not brought forward the time of the commission of the act in the required manner and the prosecution has used the general and guiding principles of the Constitution in an incorrect manner to extend the precise definitions of the Criminal Code.
After the lunch break the hearing will continue with examination of the evidence and personal testimonies. Closing arguments will be presented on Friday.