Finnish evangelical duo wait as appeal court considers 'hate crime' acquittal appeal

Finnish evangelical duo wait as appeal court considers ‘hate crime’ acquittal appeal

Two evangelical Christians in Finland may not know until the end of November whether the country’s court of appeals will sustain their 18-month-old acquittal on hate-crime charges.

Päivi Räsänen, a member of parliament and former interior minister, found herself charged after a 2019 message on Twitter, the social media platform now known as X, in which she questioned why her Lutheran church had posted a message supporting a gay pride event. The tweet contained a photo of a Bible verse condemning homosexuality.

Her co-defendant, Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, was charged in connection with his publication of a pamphlet by Ms. Räsänen stating the traditional Christian view on marriage and sexuality.

Prosecutors said these actions — along with comments Ms. Räsänen made on a radio talk show — might “incite” actions against gays, although no evidence of any attacks linked to the actions was presented, her attorneys said Friday.

The pair were found innocent of the charge of “agitation against a minority group” by a Helsinki District Court in March 2022. The country’s then-prosecutor general Raija Toiviainen filed an appeal one month later.

Two days of arguments concluded Friday, with attorneys Paul Coleman of ADF International and Matti Sankamo, a Finnish criminal defense lawyer, telling a news conference that the prosecution presented little new evidence in a replay of the 2022 lower court trial and acquittal.

Mr. Sankamo,  a former prosecutor general’s office staffer, said that if Ms. Toiviainen’s appeal fails, the case would be considered closed.

He said the current prosecutor general, Ari-Pekka Koivisto, followed the tradition of the office in allowing Ms. Toiviainen’s appeal to proceed because it had been filed during her tenure.