Global Freedom of Expression

Hate speech: The Dark Twin of Free Speech

Key Details

  • Region
    Europe and Central Asia
  • Themes
    Hate Speech

On October 20 2014, an unemployed fifty-seven year old white Norwegian man entered a supermarket in an Eastern suburb of the Norwegian capital of Oslo. Walking through the supermarket, he noticed a twenty-seven year old woman of North African background looking for groceries and standing between two supermarket shelves. She was wearing an Islamic headscarf or hijab, marking her out as a Muslim. Though they lived in proximity to one another, neither one knew one another. When the middle-aged man passed the woman, he made a negative comment on Muslims which was clearly directed against her. According to court records, the victim thought she had heard the perpetrator assert that “all Muslims ought to be slaughtered.” There were no other witnesses to this first incident, and so the Oslo Magistrate’s Court in its verdict from March 17 2015 found that there was “reasonable doubt” about the precise terms which the perpetrator might have used. What was not in doubt, however, was that the perpetrator after having moved around a supermarket shelf turned around and returned to the woman, whereupon he proceeded to spit her in her face. The spat hit the victim on her shoulders, but was clearly intended at her. The victim then reacted by screaming, leading two male supermarket employees to run to her assistance. They escorted her to the cashier point in the supermarket, where they confronted the perpetrator. When one of the male supermarket employees asked the perpetrator why he had spat at the woman, he responded that he “hated all Muslims.” The perpetrator was then reluctantly escorted out of the supermarket by the other supermarket employee, loudly registering his disapproval of that course of action by starting a shouting match with the employee outside the supermarket. The case was investigated by the then recently established Hate Crimes Unit of the Oslo Police, and brought to a conclusion by a verdict in Oslo Magistrate’s Court on March 17 2015. In its verdict, the court sentenced the defendant to eighteen days’ imprisonment and 15 000 Norwegian kroner in fines for violations of Norwegian General Penal Code Paragraph 135 (a) and 390 (a). The first paragraph, which has since its erstwhile introduction in 1970 led to the criminalization of certain forms of hate speech targeting minority individuals on the basis of their skin colour, ethnicity, national origin, religious or other beliefs, sexual orientation, or physical or mental disability, is what can be described as a Norwegian law against hate speech.

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Sindre Bangstad

Researcher at KIFO (Institute For Church, Religion and Worldview Research) in Oslo, Norway