UPDATED: A young Mexican student who arrived in Norway last month and sought asylum this week stormed the stage of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo on Wednesday. He reportedly wanted to bring world attention to the violence and kidnappings in his homeland.
The incident occurred inside the Oslo City Hall, where the Peace Prize ceremony is held every year, and just seconds after one of the two Peace Prize winners, Malala Yousafzai, had been handed her gold medal and diploma by Thorbjørn Jagland, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
Jagland was startled but quickly moved to get the young man away from Yousafzai, who sprang to world fame when she was shot by the Taliban two years ago. Security around the young winner known simply as “Malala” has been particularly extensive during this week’s Peace Prize events in Oslo.
Prize winners kept calm
Malala herself remained calm and seemed to listen as the young man spoke to her until he was removed by security guards. The entire incident unfolded while the large audience inside the Oslo City Hall was on its feet, giving a standing ovation to the Peace Prize co-winners, Malala and Kailash Satyarthi of India, for their efforts to promote childrens’ rights to education and to end child labour and slavery.
Satyarthi had also received his medal and diploma just before Yousafzai did. Undaunted by the sudden commotion, both prize winners remained in place after the intruder was physically removed by the security guards. They smiled and held their prizes high over their heads as the applause continued and later went on to give powerful speeches that brought tears to the eyes of many in the audience. It included Norway’s King Harald, Queen Sonja, Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit, plus all members of the Norwegian government and other dignitaries including the Norwegian capital’s diplomatic corps.
Solberg: ‘Security should have been better’
Norwegian police immediately faced tough questions as to how the young man could get past the security systems set up not only at the Oslo City Hall but also around the two winners of the Nobel Peace Prize this year. Prime Minister Erna Solberg was blunt in her assessment as she left City Hall, telling Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that “this should not have happened. There should have been better security.”
Police later said the man had made it through two security controls, one checking for banned objects and the other checking invitations and ID. He apparently cleared the latter by tagging along unnoticed with other guests. He was not carrying any weapons, only a camera and a Mexican flag. The flag had initially caused some confusion, with some observers speculating it was a Palestinian flag. Others insisted it was a Mexican flag, but failed to see any immediate connection between Mexico and this year’s Peace Prize winners.
Benedicte Bull, a professor at the University of Oslo, told NRK that she believes the protester was trying to draw attention to the troubles in Mexico, which many believe have not captured enough media coverage internationally. Massive protests have been held within Mexico against a Mexican government “that’s very clever at looking like they’re doing something when they’re not,” Bull told NRK. Many Mexicans now fear that 43 students who recently disappeared “will be forgotten,” said Bull, who also pointed out that child labour and human trafficking are major problems in Mexico as well.
Police said the young man who tried to talk to Malala was in custody and undergoing questioning Wednesday afternoon. The state director of police, Odd Reidar Humlegård, declined further comment on the security breach pending an investigation of the sequence of events. Several politicians, while clearly shaken by the incident, tried to move attention back to the two Nobel Prize winners and their speeches. Nobel events were continuing on Wednesday with receptions, a torchlight parade in downtown Oslo and the annual Nobel Banquet at the Grand Hotel.