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For the sixth time in a row, Finland has ranked happiest country in the world. Ten lucky visitors can even apply to receive a promotional “masterclass” in happiness from the national tourism department—the theory being that there is something innately happy, and exportable, about Finnish values and lifestyle. But what about the country’s stifling free speech record? Post on Twitter and risk a prison sentence under the country’s “hate speech” law. Can true happiness prevail amidst that kind of censorship?
Crimes of “hate speech” are very much a reality in the so-called happiest land on earth. Longstanding Finnish Member of Parliament, and former Minister of the Interior, Paivi Räsänen can attest to it. One year ago, Räsänen was unanimously acquitted by the Helsinki district court for her “crime” — posting Bible verses to Twitter in 2019 with regard to a debate on marriage and sexuality. Her church was hosting a Pride parade. In a tweet, Räsänen raised the question as to whether this conformed with Scripture. Four years later, she is still facing the crushing force of the Finnish State’s prosecutorial wrath over her tweet.
After her March 2022 acquittal, the prosecution appealed, revealing the absurd ends that the State is willing to go to silence and sanction speech deemed disagreeable. Strikingly, the Finnish legal system allows a “not guilty” verdict to be challenged all the way to the Supreme Court. Räsänen — dedicated civil servant, medical doctor, and grandmother — will be dragged back into court this August for round two of her modern-day inquisition.
The toll on Räsänen has been immense. In her words: “when we have the elections, I am on the list of those who are suspected of crime. So it has been quite hard. I think that the process itself has been some type of punishment even though I got the acquittal from the Court”. Finnish Parliamentary elections are April 2nd.
An acting Parliamentarian of nearly twenty years, Räsänen has had to juggle her political duties alongside the onerous task of defending her basic human right to free speech. She expressed no hate, no venom, and no violence of any sort. And yet her peaceful expression carried a potential threat of two years imprisonment. This is the state of fundamental freedoms in Finland today.
“I have very long days in my parliamentary work and working with this case also. I am sorry that it has taken my time as a mother and grandmother. What has been most difficult has been those lies about my statements and about my views. What I am most worried about is the atmosphere of censorship, especially for young people,” Räsänen adds. In today’s world, she notes, “young people have to be silent about their faith not to hinder their careers or social acceptance.” She is persevering in the pursuit of justice not just for herself, but for all who find themselves at risk of being silenced.
The true absurdity of what has befallen Räsänen is that it is not just her, but Christianity in and of itself that has been put on trial. She was subjected to thirteen hours of police interrogations about her beliefs, much of which centered on her understanding of the Bible. Investigations focused on a church pamphlet that she wrote almost 20 years ago, and a radio interview she gave in 2019. Räsänen describes the efforts of the Prosecutor in Court: “she accused me that I believe in such a ridiculous book as [the] Bible”. Make no mistake about it — Räsänen’s faith itself is on trial, and freedom of religion in Finland hangs in the balance.
Aware of the enormous implications for fundamental freedoms, Räsänen has expressed that she is willing to defend her human rights all the way to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary. She has dedicated her life to the people of Finland, and is seizing this moment to defend the right of every person to speak in accordance with their convictions.
When highly visible elected officials like Räsänen are censored, a chilling effect on the rest of society is inevitable. “I am worried that because this continues and goes on for so long, it is some kind of warning to other people as to what can happen if they use their freedom of speech,” Räsänen notes. Indefatigable, she sees her mission as a calling—“it has been an honor for me to defend freedom of speech and freedom of faith.” And this mission is resonating across the world. Her case garnered international outcry, with Räsänen receiving thousands of messages of support, including an open letter from U.S. Senators likening the Finnish law to a “secular blasphemy law.”
Finland is far from alone in experiencing a wave of repressive censorship. Reminiscent of Räsänen, Mexican Congressman Gabriel Quadri has been convicted as a “gender based political violator” for his tweets questioning whether biological men should occupy spaces reserved for women in Mexico’s Congress. Having exhausted all domestic recourse, he is appealing to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.
In Nigeria, Sufi Muslim Yahaya Sharif-Aminu was sentenced to death for lyrics sent through messaging platform WhatsApp. He is appealing for his life, and the overturning of Nigeria’s draconian blasphemy laws, at the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Although the consequences may vary by country, it is evident that a culture of silencing is sweeping the globe.
Nobody should be punished for peacefully expressing their beliefs. Räsänen succinctly captures the matter at hand: “the meaning of Bible verses should not be judged in a court room”. It is not for the state to interpret theology, and even less so, for it to leverage the force of criminal law to silence speech. As she asserts: “now is the time to fight for these freedoms.” All enthused by the Finnish happiness trend beware. We must guard against the exportation of the insidious trend to censor speech and criminalize expressions of faith.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.