Far-right activism fuels debate on police protection of protest rights

Peaceful Assembly

In late September 2017, city council representative Trond Blattman responded to a 29th July 2017 demonstration by neo-Nazis in the Norwegian town of Kristiansand by calling the police's actions during the demonstration “useless”. Blattmann, whose son was murdered by far-right extremist Anders Brevik in 2011, declared that:

“This was a demonstration of aggression, not free expression, and was exclusively intended to create fear in society. You refused to stop it. We will damn well not accept it anymore”.

In response to Blattman's criticism, police explained that they did not have the authority to intervene during the demonstration in which 70 supporters of the extreme right Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) marched through Kristiansand's main thoroughfare. The march was also criticised by the Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg. According to the authorities, 50 of the demonstrators were from Sweden, 17 from Finland and three from Norway. The incident highlights a key tension in Nordic countries at present, as far-right movements such as the NRM continue to grow in strength and take advantage of these countries' strong protection of the right to peaceful assembly to promote their harmful and discriminatory ideologies. 

Earlier this year, the CIVICUS Monitor reported that police banned a march by NRM in the Norwegian city of Fredrikstad. The march, which was to be organised under the banner "crush the homosexual lobby!", was banned due to security concerns. 

Expression

judgment by the European Court of Human Rights on 5th October 2017 gave a boost to journalistic freedom in Europe. The case concerned a Norwegian journalist Cecilie Lagum Becker who was ordered in 2012 to give evidence and reveal her source for an article about the Norwegian Oil Company, and alleged fears that it might collapse. Because she refused to give her sources to the authorities, she was ordered to pay a fine of 30,000 Norwegian Kroner (approximately 3,700 EUR).

The Court reviewed the case confirming Becker’s right as a journalist to keep her sources confidential and asserting that this right could not automatically be removed due to a source’s conduct or when the source’s identity becomes known. The Court ruled unanimously that fining Becker was in violation of article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Ricardo Gutiérrez of the European Federation of Journalists welcomed the judgement, stating that:

“This judgment strengthens the protection of journalistic sources which is one of the basic conditions for media freedom. That’s why we call on states to adopt legislation with the purpose of implementing journalists’ right to protect their sources, following international standards".