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Parliament votes against lifting MP's immunity from hate speech prosecution

The Finns Party MPs described asylum seekers as an 'invasive species'.

Perussuomalaisten kansanedustaja Juha Mäenpää eduskunnan kahvilassa perjantaina.
Finns Party MP Juha Mäenpää. Image: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva

Finns Party MP Juha Mäenpää will not be prosecuted for inciting ethnic hatred after a vote in parliament on lifting his immunity as a legislator fell short of the required five-sixths majority.

The proposal to lift his immunity was supported by 121 MPs, with 54 voting against and 24 legislators absent.

Prosecutor Raija Toiviainen had said she would have charged Mäenpää with incitement if immunity had been lifted, over a speech in parliament when he had compared asylum seekers to an invasive species.

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

According to the constitution, a majority of five sixths of MPs needs to support the removal of immunity for comments made in parliament.

Parties split

Finns Party MP Jussi Halla-aho had already said that his party's MPs would block the lifting of immunity, but in the vote they were joined by other opponents of prosecution.

No MPs from the SDP, Green Party, Left Alliance or Swedish People's Party voted to keep Mäenpää's immunity. However six MPs from the Centre Party and four from the National Coalition voted to retain his protection.

The Finns Party and Christian Democrat groups voted against lifting immunity.

Centre Party MP Mikko Kärnä had also said he would vote against the lifting of immunity as a matter of principle, even though he described Mäenpää's speech as racist, as he believed MPs should not face prosecution from the state over speeches made in parliament.

Parliament's own disciplinary measures in spotlight

"This has been shameful for this house and shameful for Finnish parliamentarism," said Halla-aho after the vote, who in 2012 was himself convicted of incitement to ethnic hatred for comments in his blog about Islam and Somali people. "It's good that we found enough people in the chamber to put an end to this shameful farce."

SDP group chair Antti Lindtman said that he hoped things would change in the future, and that parliament might use its own disciplinary measures.

"The Finns Party's leader announced even before committee hearings had heard the first expert witness that his MPs would block this," said Lindtman. "Now it's important that in future one sixth of MPs decide to allow hate speech in parliament. There are measures in parliament's toolbox to prevent this."

Prosecutor disappointed

State prosecutor Raija Toiviainen was disappointed with parliament's decision.

"From following the public debate I was able to guess that it would go like this," said Toiviainen. "But I am disappointed with the result. It gives the impression that a minority voted to express their acceptance of racist hate speech."

Toiviainen was pleased that a majority voted to lift Mäenpää's immunity, however.

"A majority of MPs, and a majority on the Constitutional Law Committee and a majority of experts heard by the Constitutional Law Committee were of the opinion that immunity should have been lifted. They saw it like I did, the this was a racist and hurtful attack on human dignity."

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