Proposed ban on face veils undermines Norway's free speech ranking


In April 2017, Reporters without Borders (RSF) named Norway as the top country on its World Press Freedom Index 2017, noting that media and journalists in the country are "not subject to censorship or political pressure". Despite this positive assessment by RSF, Norway has recently experienced a number of issues related to respect for and protection of free expression. 

In June 2017, Norway became the latest European nation to propose a ban on full-face veils, including burqas and niqabs, with the proposal to apply to all educational facilities. The ban is expected to get parliamentary support, and media anticipate that the government will pass the bill in the early part of next year (2018). The proposal would apply to all educational facilities, which, according to German newspaper Deutshe Welle, would also apply to "students taking part in introductory programs and language courses for newly-arrived refugees". Employees who refuse to abide by the ban could lose their jobs, and students could face expulsion from school. Although this would be the first such ban in Scandinavia, it follows similar moves in other European countries, including France, Belgium, Bulgaria and the Netherlands. Those bans have been heavily criticised by human rights groups as a violation of religious freedom and freedom of expression. 

Limitations on whistle-blowing have also recently come to light in Norway. In April 2017, the European Observatory of Working Life published a report on whistle-blowing and freedom of speech in the workplace in Norway. The report showed a clear increase between 2013 and 2016 in the proportion of employees who said they had experienced reprisals as a result of whistle-blowing. In addition, there was a clearly reduced proportion of employees who reported being willing to speak out again in the future. The publication also notes a decline in the proportion of whistle-blowers who said their concerns were met, or that their action improved the situation. The report found that:

"a significant proportion of employees find it difficult to voice criticism and report wrongdoing. The authors argue that it will be essential to discuss measures that can promote a culture in which criticism and whistle-blowing are tolerated and handled constructively".

Peaceful Assembly

In June 2017, Norwegian police banned a march in Fredrikstad by the neo-Nazi group the Nordic Resistance Movement (Den nordiske motstandsbevegelsen - DNM). Having initially granted permission for the march, which was to be held under the banner "crush the homosexual lobby!", police subsequently prohibited it on security grounds. Having examined all evidence, police said that there was a risk that counter-demonstrators would use physical resistance to stop the DNM protesters. Police have also subsequently banned applications for these counter-demonstrations by the Norwegian Organisation for Sexual and Gender Diversity. The CIVICUS Monitor recently reported on increasing activity by neo-Nazi groups, including the Nordic Resistance Movement in neighbouring Sweden.

In a positive development, a record 40,000 people marched in the 2017 Pride Parade in Oslo, an event watched by an estimated crowd of 250,000 onlookers.