Norway’s Supreme Court has overturned two earlier court decisions that allowed police intelligence unit PST to seize unpublished video shot for a documentary on an extremist Islamic group. Press organizations hailed the ruling, calling it a victory for freedom of the press, while PST claimed it could mean that potential terrorists and their recruiters go free.
“These are demanding times, and it’s important to protect our values and principles,” declared Arne Jensen, secretary general of the Norwegian editors’ association Norsk Redaktørforening. The head of Norway’s press federation Norsk Presseforbund, Kjersti Løken Stavrum, called the ruling “an important democratic moment” and “a great victory” for journalists keen to protect their sources. “The Supreme Court has done the right thing, and confirmed that the press shouldn’t do the police’s work,” Stavrum added.
Raid sparked uproar
The case resulted from PST’s raid on the home of filmmaker Ulrik Imtiaz Rolfsen, who was working on a documentary about the Islamic group Profetens Ummah and its controversial leader Ubaydullah Hussain. Rolfsen’s cameraman Adil Farooq Khan had filmed how Hussain was driving an 18-year-old Norwegian to the airport in Gothenburg, Sweden last spring, to catch a flight bound for Rhodes.
Police had both Hussain, who has openly supported extremist terrorist groups like IS, and the 18-year-old under surveillance, and believed Hussain was recruiting the teenager for terrorist activity. Swedish police, in cooperation with their Norwegian counterparts, stopped the 18-year-old at the gate and he was charged on suspicion of intending to join IS in Syria.
Hussain was charged with recruiting him, in addition to charges he already faced for allegedly making threats and encouraging acts of terrorism, and PST seized Rolfsen’s unpublished film to use it as evidence in the case.
Now that won’t be possible, after Norway’s court overturned the lower court rulings allowing it to be used. Supreme Court Justic Arne Ringnes declared that Rolfsen’s film project represented the core of investigative journalism and must be protected. The court ruled that Rolfsen has had special access to “a locked Islamic milieu” that’s based on confidence, and hinges on the protection of sources. That was weighed as more important than PST’s desire to use the film as evidence that terrorist recruitment had taken place.
Hussain, who as recently as Saturday afternoon condoned last weekend’s terrorist attacks on Paris, quickly claimed that PST had conducted a “witchhunt of me and other faithful muslims.” It earlier had been revealed in court that Hussain had ordered the cameraman Khan to hide or destroy what he’d filmed, fearing it would incriminate him.
Jan Glent, a prosecutor representing PST, claimed the court “had gone longer than ever before” in expanding journalists’ rights to protect their sources and their material. He also claimed that “in the worst case scenario, this can mean that we won’t be able to arrest terrorists.”
A relieved Rolfsen thanked his supporters and said he could not “continue to make films. I am a filmmaker and believe in telling stories that can tell something to society.” He claimed the seizure of his material had damaged his film and he was uncertain whether his sources would continue to trust him. “But it makes it easier that we have now won,” he said, and hoped it would still be possible to air his film about Hussain and the local Norwegian extremist group on state broadcaster NRK in January.