The charges were brought against Päivi Räsänen’s publications and public statements, which, according to the prosecutor, degrade and discriminate against gays. The prosecutor considered that Räsänen’s opinions violate equality and dignity of gays, and thus limits of freedom of speech and belief.
— It is important that hate speech directed at LGBTIQA+ people is dealt in the courts even when it is displayed in a religious context or is motivated by religion, says Kerttu Tarjamo, Secretary General of the human rights organisation Seta.
The District Court has judged that Päivi Räsänen’s public opinions do not amount to incitement to hatred as defined in the Penal code.
— It is obvious that Räsänen’s public opinions regarding gay people are deeply offensive to many persons belonging to sexual minorities. We hope that the matter will still be dealt with by the highest courts.
Tarjamo points out that the district court’s decision does not mean that freedom of expression or freedom of religion can be freely used to justify discrimination or hate speech. Not all hate speech is punishable under the Penal Code, it can also be harassment within the meaning of the Non-Discrimination Act.
Seta considers it important that the Non-Discrimination Act be reformed, for example, so that harassment can be considered to target not only an individual but also a group of people, and that a harassment case can be referred to the Non-Discrimination and Equality Board without the need to name a victim.
According to Seta, the court proceedings indicate that hate speech against minorities is taken more seriously in Finland than before and that the understanding about the harmfulness of hate speech is progressing. LGBTIQA+ people are one of the groups that face a lot of hate speech in Finland, already in school environments. Yet most of it remains hidden.
According to the European Agency for Fundamental Rights, nine out of ten people do not report harassment of sexual orientation or gender. Underreporting of both discrimination and hate crimes is common and the reasons are, among other things, that reporting is not believed to lead to anything.
Seta emphasises that leading politicians and parties also have a special responsibility for tackling hate speech – the minimum requirement would be to at least refrain from making hateful and degrading comments in public. Räsänen’s opinions are likely to reinforce prejudice against LGBTIQA+ people and legitimise discrimination against them.
— It is a high time that a generation of LGBTIQA+ kids could grow up in Finland without being exposed to the hurtful opinions about LGBTIQA+ people made by leading politicians.
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