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Open letter to Minister of Justice Monica Mæland

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Erland Kiøsterud
Author and essayist. Residing in Oslo. See also his website or Wikipedia
PROTEST / Smooth cell and sky-high fines became the state's response to a peaceful celebration.

Dear Monica Mæland,

On Wednesday 21 September 2020, more than a hundred citizens demonstrated outside the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy and at the intersection of Frederiks gate-Karl Johans gate against the Norwegian state's collection of oil and gas. The demonstrators did not content themselves with protesting, they used civil disobedience and blocked the entrance to the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy and they sat down and obstructed traffic at the intersection at the bottom of the Castle. They wanted to make it clear that the Norwegian state's oil and gas recovery is doing irreparable damage to nature – our common living environment. They protested on behalf of future generations, on behalf of you and my children and grandchildren. And they demonstrated on behalf of the vulnerable nature.

Our fellow citizens who demonstrated were peaceful, nicely dressed, dedicated non-violent people, and they behaved properly and politely towards passers-by and towards the police. Nevertheless, the Honorable Minister of Justice, after only a few minutes, was ordered to go to arrest. Fifty-three of them were arrested, they were put in solitary confinement in solitary confinement for 10-15 long frightening hours and then fined sky-high fines of between 17.000 and 19.000 kroner.

What had these people done? With their fragile bodies, they had expressed what more and more people now understand: that Norwegian oil and gas production, which accounts for two percent of global oil consumption and three percent of global gas consumption, must be phased out because it destroys our living environment – because with its products, plastic included, it poisons the atmosphere, nature, the oceans, animals and humans. Everyone knows this. What is happening is dangerous, global warming and the loss of biodiversity threaten life on earth. When, after decades of protests, the government did not understand, did not hear, they had no choice but to use civil disobedience to speak out.

And who was it that one early autumn morning on September 21 sat down in front of the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy and at the intersection at the bottom of the Palace? It was ordinary, peaceful, law-abiding citizens, students, civil servants, smallholders, workers, teachers, several of them single parents, low-paid, who took on the burden of speaking out on behalf of all of us about what was going on. Many of them had never been arrested before and with insurmountable fines of 17.000 to 19.000 kroner, several suddenly experienced their finances threatened. It was a shock to them.

If you demonstrate against our oil and gas extraction, we will throw you in a solitary confinement cell and we will give you such high fines that you will think about it more than once, before you use your freedom of expression again.

With long-term use of solitary confinement in police custody and dissuasive fines, your government would obviously set an example: If you demonstrate against our oil and gas extraction, we will throw you on a smooth cell and we will give you such high fines that you will think of more than once, before re-exercising your freedom of expression. Your agency's reaction to these peaceful protesters has created a democratic problem, it is a serious attack on freedom of expression and assembly, guaranteed in Norway's constitution and in the European Convention on Human Rights. The message is: To be able to speak out in Norway today, you must be both prosperous and prepared for prison.

When Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King jr. with such great security took advantage of civil disobedience, it was because they knew they had history on their side. With the law in hand, the English colonialists prevented the Indian people from liberating themselves, with the law in hand, the American police prevented the people of color from fighting for justice and equality. With the law in hand, the Norwegian state today prevents peaceful citizens from ensuring future generations a free life in a rich living environment.

History's verdict on the Norwegian state's oppression of citizens protesting against its life – destroying oil and gas extraction will be harsh. Honorable Minister of Justice, your government, like the Indian and American of its time, must be uninformed. Maybe your government is also ashamed, maybe that's why, for fear of being seen, it hits its citizens so hard. What has happened in the democracy-loving country that awards the Nobel Peace Prize?

Without a viable nature, our community is threatened.

When we today, in front of the Ministry of Justice and in front of Norwegian embassies and consulates around the world, demonstrate against the Norwegian state's treatment of the demonstrators on 21 September, it is clear to say what a serious blind spot the Norwegian government is on. Democracy presupposes a diverse, viable nature, freedom to demonstrate, a rich living environment for humans, animals and plants. Without a viable nature, without a rich living environment, the foundations of democracy are gone. Without a viable nature, we have nothing to distribute. Without a viable nature, our community is threatened.

Truly, you and I should thank these brave people who are facing imprisonment and fines, for shouting a warning on behalf of our children and grandchildren.

I therefore ask you to help stop the harmful oil and gas production. Let us together bear the costs of the restructuring. And I ask you, in the name of freedom of expression and assembly, to waive the unreasonably high fines given to our citizens, so that free speech and civil disobedience are again secured in our obviously fragile democracy.


With best regards,

Erland Kiøsterud


(Photo: Kristian Nygård / Extinction Rebellion)

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