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Trial of Christian MP facing hate crime accusations finishes with verdict expected soon

by Marcus Jones

Closing arguments have been presented in the trial of Päivi Räsänen, a Christian MP from Finland who's been accused of 'hate speech'.

The 62 year old politician ran into trouble in June 2019 after posting a Bible verse on social media which said homosexuality was shameful.

She was writing in response to her church denomination, the Finnish Lutheran church, sponsoring a local LGBT event.

Along with a further charge, linked to a historic pamphlet with criticises homosexuality, her 'crime' has a maximum punishment of six years in prison.

Speaking ahead of the trial, she said: "Now it is time to speak. Because the more we are silent, the narrower the space for freedom of speech and religion grows. I believe all people are equal and precious. I just wanted to share what I believe and what I think is best for all human beings. 

"This belief comes from love, not hate. If I'm convicted, I think that the worst consequence would not be the fine against me, or even the prison sentence, it would be the censorship of my statements and writings and many others like them."

Räsänen is facing charges alongside Bishop Juhana Pohjola, who produced the pamphlet criticising homosexuality.

The trial in Helsinki has attracted global attention, with politicians in the UK and the US lending their support.

On Monday, Pastor Andrew Brunson, a missionary who was jailed in Turkey because of his faith, visited the court to offer solidarity.

Räsänen's defence team have argued that a guilty verdict would mean it would be impossible to preach Christianity in Finland. Speaking in court they suggested it was not appropriate for the legal system to define what sin is and that there was no proof that there was any intention to offend through the social media post or the pamphlet.

Prosecutors said Räsänen has made no attempt to limit the harm of her social media post by refusing to take it down and that her public figure makes her offense worse.

They've called for heavy fines to be paid.

Räsänen and Pohjola have been supported by religious freedom organisation ADF International.

Its legal counsel Lorcan Price said: "Päivi Räsänen stands for what she believes and continues to defend everyone's right to share those beliefs with others. 

"We urge the court to uphold freedom of speech and religion in line with the Finnish constitution and its international commitments. Censorship of specific views has no place in a pluralistic society."

A verdict is expected in mid-March.

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