Mette Newth
Oslo 2002

Suppressed Literature and Illegal Newspapers: 1570-2000

As in many other European countries, Norway's recorded history of censorship coincides with the invention of the printing press. The Norwegian history of censorship of books from the middle of the 16th until the middle of the 20th century has been thoroughly documented in "Confiscated and suppressed publications" (Original Norwegian language title: "Beslaglagte og supprimerte skrifter") by Arthur Thuesen, published in Oslo 1960. The bibliographical data on publications censored in Norway through the ages for political, religious or moral reasons, as documented by Thuesen, are available in the Beacon for freedom of expression database.

The Constitutional Right to Freedom of Expression

The records shows that early censorship in the Scandinavian countries followed the same trends as elsewhere in Europe, thus the main reasons for banning or confiscating books, or punishing authors were the bitter conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism, recorded as early as 1580(1). Furthermore, publications considered harmful to King and state authorities or deemed offensive to public morals.


In 1770, censorship was abolished in Denmark, hence also in Norway, then under Danish rule. With Norway's independence from Denmark in 1814, the Norwegian Constitution was adopted (May 17, 1814) and freedom to print was protected in the first sentence of Article 100 of the Constitution. However, this freedom was not without limitations, thus disobedience of Norwegian law, deliberate contempt of religion or decency or the constitutional authorities, as well as defamation, were specifically prohibited. The last sentence of Article 100 stated: "Everyone shall be free to speak his mind frankly on the administration of the State and on any other subject whatsoever."

When in 1902 the Penal Code was revised, the limits of free expression as specified in Article 100 were elaborated, and new concerns were introduced, such as the consideration of relations to foreign powers and that of national security. Also in Norway, the First World War (1914-1918) had significant negative consequences for freedom of expression on the grounds of national security. New laws were introduced prohibiting disclosure of defence secrets, and censorship of letters and telegrams were established along with trade restrictions also on printed material. After 1918, these laws conveniently aided surveillance of the growing radical political and labour movements. Among other laws introduced, significant to the extent of freedom of expression, were the 1913 law on pre-censorship of moving pictures, and the 1933 State monopoly of broadcasting, in 1960 extended to television. The State monopoly of broadcasting were abolished in 1981. Amendments to Article 100 of the Constitution was proposed in 1999 by a Commission on freedom of expression appointed by Royal Decree.

Selected Cases of Freedom of Expression vs. Blasphemy and Pornography

The most noteworthy challenge of religious tolerance occurred in 1933, when the prominent poet Arnulf Øverland held a lecture on "Christianity - the tenth plague" ("Kristendommen - den tiende landeplage") in the Students Society at Oslo university. The trial against Øverland remains one of the most outstanding trials on freedom of expression in Norwegian history in peace time. Even though Øverland was acquitted, Parliament tightened the penal code on blasphemy a year later.

The public notion of decency was most notably challenged in the late 19th century by two authors; Hans Jæger ("Fra Kristiania-Bohêmen" 1886) and Christian Krohg ("Albertine" 1887). Both novels were confiscated, though only Jæger was sent to prison. Seventy years passed before the authorities once more took penal action against authors on behalf of public decency. In the 1950s and 60s the authors Agnar Mykle ("Sangen om den røde rubin", 1957)(2), the American author Henry Miller ("Sexus" (Danish edition) 1957-59 )(3) and Jens Bjørneboe ("Uten en tråd", 1966)(4) were all subject to criminal prosecution and the novels confiscated. In each case the sentence of the County Court was appealed to the Supreme Court. In Mykle's case, the majority of Supreme Court voted for acquittal and lifted the confiscation. In Miller's case the majority of the Supreme Court sentenced the booksellers to accept confiscation of the novel, and for the first time in 70 years a novel was prohibited in Norway. From USA Miller wrote a "Defence of the Freedom to Read: a Letter to the Supreme Court of Norway", published in English and Norwegian by J.W. Cappelen Forlag. In 1995 "Sexus" was published by the Norwegian publisher Den norske Bokklubben as part of the series " Library of the Century". In the case of Bjørneboe and his publisher, the majority of the Supreme Court ruled to uphold County Court's sentence of fines for both author and publisher and the order of confiscation. Jens Bjørneboe's novel "Uten en tråd" thus became the second - and last - novel in the 20th century to be prohibited.

Today, these mid-20th century criminal trials against outstanding and internationally renowned novelists may seem like tales of the dark ages. At the time and long thereafter, these cases created heated public debate, thus contributing to extend public tolerance, and also helped shift the authorities and judicial system's focus of prosecution from fictional artistic expression to the vastly more serious crimes of child pornography and speculative violent adult pornography. Bibliographic information about the above mentioned titles are available in the database.

Norway in War

The 1940-45 German occupation represented the most sinister and suppressive period of censorship in Norway's history. Immediately after the invasion in April of 1940, the Nazi rulers clamped down on the press and broadcasting. Newspapers faced the choice of being shut down or to accept Nazi control. Strict censorship of cultural life followed, including publishing houses, bookstores and libraries. In February of 1941, the Nazi authorities issued a decree concerning the protection of Norwegian literature and introduced a comprehensive index of forbidden literature. Indexed were numerous international and Norwegian publishing houses, single works by authors and whole authorship's. Identical lists were applied in all German occupied countries - Denmark, Norway, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, The Netherlands, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Poland, Yugoslavia and Greece - as well as Germany. Thus tens of thousands of works by Jewish authors and authors considered to be communists were banned throughout Europe, or authors classified as subversive and therefore deemed harmful to the Nazi ideology. The purging of libraries throughout Norway was executed by the local police.
This index of books, authors and publishers banned in Norway during World War II was published by AL. Biblioteksentralen in 1995. (Original title: Beslaglagte bøker - Norge i krig 1940-45.) The entire index is available in the database.

In October 1942, censorship was tightened in Norway, as was the punishment. Thus the Decree issued by Reichskommissar Terboven, states:

"[...] anyone …who propagates for an enemy state, or produces, acquires or disseminates information or other matters harmful to German interests, or who listens to any other transmitters than those that are German or under German control.. will be punished by death."

Radioes were forbidden and confiscated. Strict control and threats of severe punishment did not prevent Norwegians from keeping illegal radios and listening to the BBC Norwegian transmission from London, or read illegal news bulletins and papers. From 1940 until 1945, 444 illegal newspapers were produced throughout the country and disseminated amongst Norwegians. A few newspapers were professionally produced in illegal printing shops or secretly in legitimate print shops in relatively substantial amounts of copies, but the majority of these regular publications were humble; typewritten and duplicated before being disseminated and furthermore passed from person to person. The well organised illegal press naturally recruited professional journalists and writers, but the majority of the thousands of Norwegians who run these vital sources of uncensored war news - equally important as information channels for the Norwegian resistance movement - were ordinary men, women and young adults. An estimated 3-4000 people were arrested for these illegal activities. An estimated 212 people lost their lives, 64 of whom were executed, while another 91 perished in prison or in German concentration camps. The illegal press during the German occupation of Norway has been thoroughly recorded and annotated by Hans Luihn, himself an active participant in this vital part of the Norwegian resistance movement.

The entire publication "Den frie hemmelige pressen i Norge under okkupasjonen 1940-45" (unauthorised English translation: "The free secret press in Norway during the occupation 1940-45") is available in the database.

Selected Cases: Freedom of Expression vs. National Security

In Norway, as in many other Western countries, the Cold War represented a period when the issues of freedom of expression and freedom of the press became strongly politicised. The Norwegian post World War II measures regarding surveillance and national security, Norway's membership in NATO (1948), the pending threat of a press censorship act and the 1950 controversial Alert Bill, authorizing Government to act on threats to national security, all became central issues in heated freedom of expression-debates in the late 1940s. No less heated was the debate on public access to documents and information held by government administration, finally leading to Parliament passing the first Bill on access in 1972. The Bill, containing numerous exceptions to the rule, did not end the debate on openness and access to information. The Bill was amended in 1982 and again in 1995.

In the Cold War clashes between freedom of the press and national security, three cases in particular caused extensive public debate on the authorities’ policy on secrecy.

In 1977 the daily newspaper Arbeiderbladet disclosed the Norwegian government's secret cooperation with USA (1959-60) of instalments in Norway of the Long Range Navigation - electronic navigation system that was part of the US atomic submarine programme Polaris. A cooperation unknown to Parliament, and clearly in violation of the non-atomic weapons policy adopted by Parliament. The government, although much of the information on Loran-C had long since been published in USA, considered prosecution of the newspaper, then ordered an inquiry into the incident. Following the decision to keep the report of the inquiry commission secret, two members of Parliament deliberately disclosed parts of the report and were consequently also threatened with impeachment. Parliament finally decided not to impeach.

Also in 1977, the weekly leftwing newspaper Ny Tid disclosed top secret Norwegian espionage in the Soviet Union during 1953 via agents in Finland. One of the journalists responsible for the disclosure also demonstrated detailed knowledge of the Norwegian Secret Service, claiming the information was systematically compiled from open sources. This was also publicly confirmed by two army officers. The public debate ran high on open and secret sources, and illegal political surveillance, and more press disclosures followed to the great embarrassment of the government. The Chief Prosecutor ordered a police action against the newspaper, and the two officers were prosecuted according to the Military Penal Code, charged with activities harmful to national security and violation of professional secrecy. The three journalists and another person involved stood trial in the County Court (Oslo), two of them charged according to the so called "spy" articles of the Penal Code. The editor demanded to be charged on account of her responsibility as an editor, but was refused. All accused were sentenced to prison for a duration between 60 days and one year, although all four received suspended sentences.

In 1983, the magazine Non Violence (original title Ikkevold) published a critical review entitled "Bomb target Norway" (original title "Bombemål Norge") concerning the position Norway de facto held in the allied atomic strategy, as compared to the non-atomic defence policy adopted by the Norwegian Parliament. In both these cases, the Chief Prosecutor brought charges against the newspapers and editors/journalists involved of activities harmful to national security. The editorial staff of Ikkevold were found guilty by the County Court (Oslo) in 1985 and sentenced to jail. The sentence was appealed to the Supreme Court and consequently annulled. However, new charges were brought against the editorial staff, and in 1986 the County Court (Oslo) once more found them guilty as charged. Finally, all were acquitted by the Supreme Court in 1987.

In the early 90s, these three cases led eventually Parliament to appoint a commission to investigate the allegations of illegal political surveillance of Norwegian citizens. The critical report, confirming that illegal surveillance had taken place, also called for measures to secure greater openness and accountability on the part of the secret service. The so called Lund-commission's report was simultaneously presented to Parliament and published in full. (Lund-rapporten. Rapport til Stortinget fra kommisjonen som ble nedsatt for å granske påstander om ulovlig overvåkning av norske borgere. Dokument nr. 15 (1995 -96)).

Available in the database is a comprehensive list of literature written on these important and much debated cases.

Freedom of Expression: The Indigenous Sami People of Norway

The indigenous populations - or more precisely the First Peoples - of most countries have suffered a multitude of censorship-related problems, ranging from prohibition of the use of their languages to lack of opportunities and channels of expression. This is also the case of the Sami people of Norway. The First Peoples often represent a minute part of the general population of a country, in many cases much smaller than immigrated ethnic minorities. More often than not, the problems of the First People are overlooked when national freedom of expression issues are discussed. So also in Norway, where both government white-papers and state initiated support systems until the 1980s were entirely focused on enhancing the Norwegian language, literature or the press.

The native languages of the Sami people of Norway (Sweden and Finland) suffered various forms of suppression for centuries. After World War II, Norwegian authorities started a more systematic and relentless policy of assimilation of the Sami population, the benevolent aim being to force the Sami population to become truly "Norwegian". One of the measures was to prohibit the use of Sami language in schools, the Sami non-written poetry (joik) in particular prohibited, regarded as pagan, and therefore alien to the Christian foundation of the Norwegian public educational system. The Sami language was forbidden in Norwegian schools until 1958, but the right to receive education in Sami was only granted to Sami children in the law on primary education in 1988. The establishment of the Sami Parliament (Sametinget) in 1989 boosted the Sami struggle for improved opportunities and economical conditions for Sami language press, publishing and broadcasting, thus also for education and official use of the language. In 1992 the Sami language was finally adopted as Norway's third official language.

Seen in the context of this database - Beacon for freedom of expression -, a database aimed at documenting all censored literature and newspapers through the ages -, the enduring deliberate suppression of the First Peoples languages or prohibitive conditions for publishing books or newspapers throughout the world, remains a painful fact never to be adequately recorded in all its destructive consequence. This we can only regret.

The Norwegian Constitution: Amendments of Article 100

Throughout the 20th century, and in particular during the latter half of the century, public debate has mounted on Article 100 of the Norwegian Constitution. Basically, the concerns have been related to the constant elaboration of the Penal Code, inflicting on or curtailing freedom of expression as stated in the Constitution, thus undermining the core principle of Article 100. Conflicts between the Article 100 and the Penal Code were numerous throughout the century, as illustrated above.(5) In addition, a case of prevention of racial discrimination versus freedom of expression in the late 90s, highlighted the conflict imbedded in the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Charter on Human Rights, as well as in Norwegian and international law.(6) As Article 100 explicitly protected printed material, a long lasting concern had been the lack of specific constitutional protection of non-printed media, matching the media-technological development. Another major concern was the lack of explicit protection of the right to receive and impart information, in accordance with Article 19 of the UN Charter on Human Rights.

When in 1996, a Norwegian Governmental Commission on freedom of expression was appointed by Royal Decree; the appointment was warmly welcomed, not least by the professional artist, author and press organisations and the NGO-community. The commission presented its report, Official Norwegian Report 1999: 27 "Freedom of Expression Should Take Place" - Proposal for a new Article 100 of the Constitution, to the Minister of Justice in 1999 (Original title: NOU 1999: 27 "Ytringsfrihed bør finde Sted" Forslag til ny Grunnlov § 100).

During the work of the Commission on freedom of expression, the government presented to Parliament a Bill on enhancement of the position of human rights in Norwegian law, (Lov om styrking av menneskerettighetenes stilling i norsk rett (menneskerettsloven) 1999 nr.30), that necessitated an amendment of the Norwegian Constitution, thus Article 110c now states: "The State authorities are obliged to respect and secure human rights." (Authors note: unauthorised translation).

The core principle (1st paragraph) of the amendments proposed by the Commission on freedom of expression reads: "There shall be freedom of expression". The amendments incorporate both European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Charter on Human Rights, thus making them into Norwegian law. The full text of the 6 paragraphs is quoted below. For the complete English summary, see Chapter 12 of NOU 1999:27 "Ytringsfrihed bør finde Sted" Forslag til ny Grunnlov § 100. Further bibliographic information may be accessed through the Beacon for freedom of expression database.

Full text of amendments proposed by the Commission on freedom of expression (NOU 1999:27 Ytringsfrihed bør finde Sted" Forslag til ny Grunnlov § 100.)

  1. There shall be freedom of expression.
  2. No person may be held liable in law for imparting or receiving information, ideas or messages unless such liability can be justified in relation to the reasons behind freedom of expression, i.e. the seeking of truth, the promotion of democracy and the individual's freedom to form his or her own opinions. Such legal responsibility must be clearly prescribed by law. No person may be held liable in law for the reason that a statement is untrue if it was uttered in non-negligent good faith.
  3. Everyone shall be free to speak his mind frankly on the administration of the State and on any other subject whatsoever.
  4. Prior censorship and other preventive measures may only be used as far as is necessary to protect children and the youth from harmful influence of moving pictures. Censorship of letters may only be implemented in institutions and by leave of a court of law.
  5. Everyone has a right of access to the documents of the State and of the municipal administration and a right to be present at sittings of the courts and of administrative bodies elected by the people. The law may only prescribe such clearly defined limitations to this right as overriding considerations show to be necessary.
  6. It is the responsibility of the authorities of the State to create conditions enabling an open and enlightened public debate.

This article is based on a variety of sources, a selection of which is listed below. The main sources have been the following selected :

Selected Literature

  1. Beslaglagte og supprimerte skrifter by Arthur Thuesen, published in Oslo 1960
  2. Beslaglagte bøker - Norge i krig 1940-45, published by AL. Biblioteksentralen in 1995.
  3. Den frie hemmelige pressen i Norge under okkupasjonen 1940-45, author Hans Luihn, published by The National Library of Norway, the W.W.II Printing Collection.
  4. NOU 1999:27 Ytringsfrihed bør finde Sted" Forslag til ny Grunnlov § 100 and the annex to the report, "Ytringsfrihetens historie i Norge i det 20.århundre" (The history of freedom of expression in Norway in the 20th century), authors Hans Fredrik Dahl and Henrik G. Bastiansen and "Norges internasjonale forpliktelser på ytringsfihetens område" (The international obligations of Norway in the field of freedom of expression) author Kyrre Eggen
  5. Canisius, Petrus: En liten Catechismus eller kort summe på then rette Christelighe och Catholiske troo, alle Christne på thenne tijdh storlighe aff nödhen. 1580. This Catechism was published by Antonius Possevinus, then Papal envoy to Stockholm, but confiscated in 1580 by order of king Johan III as Catholic propaganda.
  6. Mykle, Agnar: Sangen om den røde rubin. 1957. ("The song of the red ruby") Charges was brought against Agnar Mykle. Although he was acquitted, the Court still decided to confiscate the rest of the edition of the book.
  7. Henry Miller's novel Sexus, although not published in Norway but imported by bookstores in a Danish edition, all copies of the novel were confiscated by the order of the Court. The two booksellers were found guilty of violation of the Penal Code by the County Court, although sentence was post phoned.
  8. Bjørneboe, Jens: Uten en tråd (Unauthorised translation of title: "Without a stitch") 1966. After confiscation by the Public Prosecutor, the author was faced with a comprehensive indictment. Bjørneboe was sentenced to a fine of Nkr. 100, subsidiary 2 days imprisonment, and the book was suppressed.
  9. In accordance with the content of the database Beacon for freedom of expression, this article only describes cases related to blasphemy, decency and political issues such as national security. Thus the numerous cases of defamation are omitted, as are censorship related to other media's such as film.
  10. Kjuus, the leader of the radical right wing party "White Election Alliance" (Hvit valgallianse) were charged in accordance with the Penal Code Article 135a prohibiting racial discrimination for , and sentenced to 30 days prison by the County Court (Oslo). The majority of the Supreme Court upheld the sentence (1997).The case was appealed to the European Human Rights Court but turned down.