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Illegal Statement

Some statements are immoral, disgusting and hateful, but still perfectly legal. Other statements are illegal and those who have made these statements can be punished through a court. Most restrictions on what one can say and not say are about what one can say in public, and there is a much higher threshold for regulating what is said in private communication. Both the right and the left in Norwegian politics largely agree that hate speech and threats should be regulated. This is justified by the fact that hate speech and threats challenge equality, ie that all citizens are equally valuable, and that if we allow all hate speech and threats, different citizens will have different access to participate in the democratic debate. What is fundamental to remember when we talk about illegal utterances is that an utterance exists only after it is uttered. This means that the police cannot stop a statement before it is made and that the statement is only declared criminal after it has been presented to the public.

Hate speech

It is important to remember that a hate speech does not always qualify as a hate speech in the legal sense. A statement can be hateful, but still not punishable. Below we will demonstrate what threats can actually lead to a verdict in a court of law. This is described in §185 of the Penal Code, a section that is often referred to as the “racism section” in the media.

The Norwegian Penal Code defines a hate speech as an expression that threatens or mocks someone on the basis of the person’s actual or presumed:

1Skin color or national or ethnic origin

2Religion or outlook on life

3Sexual Orientation

4Gender identity or gender expression


6An utterance that promotes:

hatred, persecution or contempt for someone on the basis of identification with the grounds mentioned above

The law specifies that it is irrelevant whether the aggrieved party actually belongs to the discriminated group or not, as long as the person expressing the hateful expression has genuinely believed that the person belongs to the discriminated group.

Several lawsuits have been filed that have specified how we are to understand the concept of hate speech. Based on the judgments, we see that the court has more difficulty in judging statements that have a clear political content and are made in a clear political context. For example, a woman from an anti-immigration and anti-Islamic organization was acquitted of very derogatory remarks about Muslims at a demonstration in front of the Storting in Oslo, acquitted of the hate speech because the allegation was made in a political arena, in a political context and directed at Norwegian immigration policy. In several judgments, the court has emphasized that it should not only be how one expresses oneself, but what one expresses that should be taken into account when considering whether something is a hateful statement according to the law or not. This is to ensure that dialect, social class, level of education or language skills will make some more vulnerable to being punished according to §185 than others.


A threat is an expression or expression that is threatening and that has the potential to cause fear and excitement to the people who are threatened. Threats are the form of communication that is most strictly and most often regulated in the Penal Code, including sections 115, 117, 263 and 264. Threats can be verbal or physical (or both). Like hate speech, not all threats will lead to criminal liability. In contrast to §185, the prohibitions against threats protect the entire population.

 In order for a threat to be punishable, it must, according to § 263

1Threatened to commit a criminal act

2& Aimed directly at someone

3& Be presented in a context that is apt to evoke serious fear.

In order for a threat to be punishable, the threat must contain a reference to a criminal act such as theft, violence or murder. A threat that the practitioner will humiliate the victim in a lawful manner is thus not a punishable threat. A threat from parents to children that the child will not have access to a good is also not a criminal threat.

A threat must therefore have a victim, someone who is threatened with being punishable. The victim does not have to be a specific individual, but can be a group or a representative. If someone threatens to carry out a criminal act such as buying drugs or giving minors alcohol, this does not qualify as a criminal threat either, as the goal is not to make the recipient of the statement a victim. The threat is not directed at anyone.

A threat must also be made in such a situation and in such a way that it is suitable for provoking serious fear. A threat must have a certain level of credibility in order to be punishable. If two people fight and one says to the other “if you touch me again I will take your mother” without knowing anything about the other’s family, it is not certain that the threat would be punishable. If the person who threatened had made the same threat the next day and attached a picture of the mother’s house, the threat would probably be punishable. Anything that makes the violence in the threat more likely will create a context that is apt to evoke serious fear.

Violation of privacy

Statements that aim to expose private and / or degrading details about a person in a public context are affected by section 267 of the Penal Code and can be punished with up to 1 year in prison.

Legislation vs. Enforcement

Although the Penal Code lays a foundation for being able to punish illegal utterances, it differs how these laws are applied and who can apply them.

If someone makes something that can easily be identified as a hate speech, the police have a very limited opportunity to prevent them from continuing to speak out, as it is not possible to know in advance that the next statement will also be punishable. The police’s opportunities to intervene are a little more in specific threat cases. If there is an immediate danger of violence and damage, the police also have a duty to intervene and protect the person who is threatened. In cases where the risk of violence is lower or less immediate or the opportunities for the police to break in are fewer.

What do we do with unacceptable utterances?

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