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Growing calls to rescind blasphemy law

Finland's criminal code has a section relating to breaches of the sanctity of religion that includes "publicly blaspheming against God". In the wake of the terror attack on the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, renewed calls are being heard to eliminate the offense of blasphemy from the law.

Tuomarin nuija pöydällä oikeussalissa.
Image: Yle

Breaches of the sanctity of religion include not only public blasphemy, but any derogatory, disrespectful and inflammatory statements against what religions consider sacred, as well as any interference or disturbance of religious observances. Sentences for violations range from fines to as much as two months imprisonment.

While fully in force, prosecutions have been rare. The last case was in 2009 when Finns Party politician Jussi Halla-aho was convicted and fined for a blog posting on Islam, claiming among other things that it sanctifies paedophilia. 

Following the terrorist attack in Paris on the French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo, there have been renewed calls to remove any mention of blasphemy from the law.

Outdated concept

In a discussion on Yle's Radio 1 on Friday, both the head of Council for Mass Media in Finland, Risto Uimonen, and the chair of the Finnish chapter of PEN, Sirpa Kähkönen stated that they backed the move. 

"I hope that the mention of blasphemy will be removed from the Finnish criminal code. It is indeed outdated. It is no longer part of the modern concept of law," said Uimonen. "That's right," Kähkönen agreed. "That would suit me."

In a Tweet on Thursday, Green League chair Ville Niinistö proposed rescind the blasphemy law, saying that freedom of expression is the basis of a free society.

According to the deputy chair of the Finnish Islamic Council, Pia Jardi, it is also worthwhile considering what uses freedom of expression is put to in western societies. She told Yle that Islam unequivocally forbids the mockery of other people and religion.

"This is perhaps at odds with the western concept of freedom of expression. In this context, I have also thought about how satire is generally more used to mock those in power. When the Prophet Muhammad, who is holy to Muslims, is mocked in Europe, this mockery is targeted at a minority. Although I fully support freedom of expression, it is like sticking one's hand into a wasps' nest when mocking people who have no kind of power position in Europe," said Jardi.

Pia Jardi stressed that the Finnish Islamic Council condemns the attack in Paris on Charlie Hebdo, saying that this type of action is not a part of the religion of Islam.

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