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Parliament debates Finns Party MP's legal immunity over alleged incitement speech

In a historic vote, MPs are scheduled to decide whether to rescind Juha Mäenpää's legal immunity on Friday.

Finns Party MP Juha Mäenpää Image: Emmi Korhonen / Lehtikuva

This week Finnish Parliament is debating a motion to waive Finns Party MP Juha Mäenpää’s immunity from prosecution based on his alleged ethnic incitement on the floor of the legislature. MPs are set to vote on the matter on Friday.

The incident that sparked the debate took place last June when Mäenpää likened asylum seekers to an invasive species in a speech before the legislature. Four separate complaints regarding his statements were filed with police, which prompted a preliminary investigation over suspicions of inciting hatred against an ethnic group.

The Constitutional Law Committee recommended last week that Parliament should remove Mäenpää’s immunity.

In January, Finland's Prosecutor General, Raija Toiviainen, announced that incitement charges should be filed against the MP.

What is prosecutorial immunity?

Parliamentarians' right to freedom of expression is highly protected in Finland. According to the Constitution, MPs cannot be prosecuted or deprived of their ability to express their opinion in the legislature.

Filing charges against Mäenpää -- or any other MP for that matter -- requires the approval of five-sixths of Parliament.

Rare case

Since the last iteration of the country's constitution came into force two decades ago, Parliament has not once dealt with -- or voted on -- an MP's immunity from prosecution.

The last time such cases were dealt with was in the 1970s and previously in the 30s and 40s.

Helsinki University's criminal justice professor Kimmo Nuotio said that the Constitutional Law Committee's recommendation to remove Mäenpää's immunity was a position in itself and showed that MPs cannot always count on such protections.

Divided decision

However, the committee did not reach its decision unanimously, but by a vote of 12-5, which Nuotio said was unusual. Three Finns Party members on the committee -- Olli Immonen, Sakari Puisto and Jukka Mäkynen -- submitted dissenting votes, as did two MPs from the other main opposition party, the conservative National Coalition Party (NCP) -- Wille Rydman and Heikki Vestman.

But all Finns Party members on the committee were not in alignment with each other, as MP Antti Häkkinen voted to rescind Mäenpää's immunity.

On Monday the NCP's parliamentary group chair, Kai Mykkänen, said the party supports the Constitutional Law Committee's proposal to withdraw the MP's immunity from prosecution but added that his party's colleagues could vote on the matter as they wished on Friday.

Required votes

In order for a prosecution to go ahead against Mäenpää, five-sixths of Parliament need to agree to the measure, meaning that 167 out of 200 MPs would need to back the proposal.

The Finns Party's parliamentary group has 38 members. Party chair Jussi Halla-aho has said his group opposes rescinding the MP's immunity. If all Finns Party members vote according to Halla-aho's stance, the motion will not pass on Friday.