Reply to Martin – the limits, or lack of limits for racist, hateful comments in Norway

You raise an interesting topic in your last comment, limits to the right to expression. Because it is also related to a previous post by Christian, I thought it just as well to reply with a new entry.

Sadly, Norway has some very disturbing legal precedents when it comes to incitement to hate crimes, or racist verbal attacks against minorities, in particular our tiny Jewish minority.

In 2002, the Supreme court set aside the ruling by Halden City Court that found the leader of the nazi gang Boot Boys – Terje Sjølie – guilty of breach of section 135a of our penal code . The opinion of the Supreme Court was that on an individual basis (word for word), the words spoken by Mr. Sjølie did not constitute a breach of section 135a, and acquitted him.

This decision in turn was appealed to the UN committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, CERD. You can read the preamble to the deliberations here, where the offensive statements by Mr. Sjølie also are detailed.  The findings of the CERD are found here, which find that the State of Norway does not afford adequate protection to ethnic minoritites against racial slurs, and admonished the Norwegian State to

take measures to ensure that statements such as those made by Mr. Sjolie in the course of his speech are not protected by the right to freedom of speech under Norwegian law.

One would have though that after such a serious and embarrassing public telling off, that Norwegian courts would be extremely careful to prevent hate speech being allowed under the guise of freedom of expression.

Disturbingly, it took not long before yet another crystal clear example of hate speech was again given the OK. In 2003, Tore Tvedt, the leader of the nazi group Vigrid was interviewed by VG in relation to an initiation ceremony for neo-nazis. Some of the atrocities he went on record with include:

The Jews are our main enemy, they have murdered our people, they are evil murderers. They are not humans, they are parasites that must be weeded out…

Not surprisingly, Mr. Tvedt was put under criminal investigation and in the first instance, in 2006, the district court of Eiker, Modum and Sigdal condemned him to a 45 days’ conditional prison term. Mr. Tvedt decided to appeal and was shockingly acquitted by Borgarting Appeals court, who cited our Constitution chapter 100, which guarantees freedom of speech. The State Attorney then appealed to the Supreme Court, who ruled in accordance with UN guidelines and reinstated the previous ruling (which by no means was too harsh….).

I would like to reflect on the public reactions to this ruling. Aftenposten, who prides itself to be a human rights champion, disagreed with the Supreme Court ruling and argued in an editorial (22.12.2008) that since the protection awarded citizens in our penal code 135a, potentially could limit the constitutional right to freedom of speech, Mr. Tvedt should not have been convicted. This drew sharp reactions from several other newspapers, poignantly was the first media to repudiate this op-ed, followed by, where Aftenposten was rightly ridiculed:

Aftenposten met itself in the door around Christmas time, but we doubt that it recognized itself…

But perhaps the most harrowing contribution was by Mona Levin, in fact and ironically one of Aftenpostens most prestigious journalists, at a seminar sponsored by Norway’s Resistance Museum in September 2007, some time before the Supreme Court Ruling in the Tvedt case. This article was featured on MIFF.NO, titled Jews don’t have the same protection as others.

Here Ms. Levin points out a very regrettable attitude expressed by our judicial elite (in relation to the boot boys verdict; unauthorized translation):

Supreme Court Judge, Ingse Stabell had this to say about Terje Sjølies comments regarding Jews.: “One just has to accept this.” And I, who belong to the smallest and most vulnerable minority in Norway, ask “Who is this “ONE?” Mrs. Stabell is certainly not. She and the other Supreme Court Judges representing the majority are not this “one”…

This echoes the findings and opinions Gerstenfeld uncovered in his book Antisemitism in Norway (ISBN 9789652180667).

Here too, we read about condescending attitudes from our justice system, expressed in hateful attacks on the representatives from Jewish Community during the restitution case and the controversial Skarpnes commission: Antisemitism in Norway, Gerstenfeld, page 71:

We want to help the Ministry of Justice in this matter and ensure that the Jews don’t get a penny. The stingy Jews had better shut up!

It certainly seems we have a Systemic problem,  Norwegian Jews are treated differently than other ethnic groups, and maybe this is the reason why many Jews prefer to keep their head down in Norway?

Prof. M. McGonagall