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Finns Party MP Risks Hate Speech Charges for Likening Asylum Seekers to Invasive Species

© AFP 2023 / PANU POHJOLA / LEHTIKUVAMigrants queue in front of a refugee reception centre in Tornio,Finland (file)
Migrants queue in front of a refugee reception centre in Tornio,Finland (file) - Sputnik International
Juha Mäenpää denies being guilty of hatred against people and instead argued it was a spontaneous expression, while his fellow Finns party members have pledged to prevent legal proceding against him.

State Prosecutor Raija Toiviainen has asked for the Finnish parliament's approval to charge MP Juha Mäenpää with hate speech for his statement made in June of last year, when he compared asylum seekers to an invasive species, the newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet reported.

Mäenpää spoke about asylum seekers with different religions coming to Finland and concluded his speech by citing a government programme to combat invasive species.

A preliminary investigation has been completed, and the police believe there are grounds to suspect that Mäenpää's comment is incitement of hatred against a group of people. Toiviainen interpreted Mäenpää's statements as “improper” and “abusive”, but she also saw mitigating circumstances in the spontaneity of the statements.

For statements made by an MP during a parliamentary session, the parliament's own approval is required for the state prosecutor to decide whether to prosecute or not. For this, a five-sixths majority is required.

Since the Finns hold 39 of the parliament's 200 seats, they can in practice stop the prosecution, which they also intend to do. Finns leader Jussi Halla-aho stressed that protection against prosecution is in place “to prevent politics from moving from parliament to the courts”.

Halla-aho himself was convicted of hate speech in 2012 over blog posts dating back to 2008 and was compelled to delete them. Halla-aho likened Islam to paedophilia and said Somalis are predisposed to stealing and living off welfare, which the Supreme Court ruled doesn't fall under the freedom of speech clause.

Former PM and current Speaker of Parliament Matti Vanhanen of the Cenre Party is deeply critical of the Finns' interpretation and urged the party not to approach a legal matter in a political way.

At present, two other MPs are under pre-trial investigations into their controversial statements, Hussein al-Taee of the governing Social Democrat Party and Päivi Räsänen of the Christian Democrats.

Al-Taee is being investigated for a series of remarks disparaging religious and sexual minorities on Facebook between 2011 and 2012. The Helsinki Police Department said the right to prosecute has not expired because these posts have been circulated in the public domain for the past five years.

Räsänen is under scrutiny for her tweet in conjunction with Helsinki Pride on 18 June 2019. According to the Helsinki Police Department, the tweet suggested that the event portrays sin and shame as sources of pride and questioned the church’s participation in it.

“How does the foundation of the church’s teachings, the Bible, fit with elevating sin and shame as reasons for pride?” Räsänen was quoted as tweeting.

The Eurosceptic, anti-immigration, anti-globalist Finns founded in the 1990s, slowly emerged as a contender and even entered the government after the 2015 vote. In 2017, the party suffered a bitter schism as half of the Finns leadership, including its founder and perennial leader Timo Soini left. However, the newly minted Blue Reform party flopped bitterly in the 2019 election, leaving the Finns once again as the largest right-wing opposition party at 17.5 percent of the vote.

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