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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Former justice minister accused of racism and sexism

The police he once supervised as a justice minister are now investigating charges of racism and sexism against Per-Willy Amundsen of the conservative Progress Party. Amundsen, who remains a Member of Parliament, has refused to answer their questions but already has resigned under pressure as leader of the parliament’s justice committee.

Per-Willy Amundsen served as Justice Minister during Erna Solberg’s conservative coalition government and was thus in charge of the courts, legal police, preparedness and the police. Now he’s been reported to the police himself because of his allegedly racist and sexist comments on Facebook. PHOTO: Justisdepartementet

“He has chosen to exercise his right not to clarify his position to police,” inspector Renate Myhre Medby told state broadcaster NRK on Wednesday, after newspaper VG had reported Amundsen’s refusal to respond to the charges against him. Medby said the police investigation would continue.

The political storm around the 53-year-old Amundsen began late last week, when he published a series of highly offensive comments in social media. It began with references to how he’s supporting Israel in its war against Hamas and bombing of Gaza, and degenerated into a rant about how “the Arabs have a habit of killing people” and that “Islam has a whole gang of psychopaths who murder. Let’s count all of you, and send you out (of Norway).”

He also wrote that any “Islamics” who dared to comment on his Facebook page “can go to hell. I will do whatever I can to send you home to your homeland. If you express anti-Semitic attitudes … we can clean up, count you and send you out.”

Then he went on to target women on the eve of International Women’s Day on March 8. “Congratulations to all boring women who want to hold men back,” he wrote. “Congratulations! You have succeeded. We’re all paying the price. Young men are failing to succeed, schools and day care centers are hit by radical gender theory that we can’t understand, created by radical female people who don’t know up or down of a penis.

“But we stay quiet, as usual, just as we always do when we sacrifice ourselves in war and die for you, like men do. We die for you! But feminism has won. We men are nothing, we mean nothing. Politicians and bureaucrats have agreed to that.” His rant continued, complete with rude references to how women can begin to have reproduction problems after age 30.

“It went from bad to worse,” said Tone Sofie Aglen, political commentator for NRK. Amundsen, who’s married and comes from Harstad in Northern Norway, still refused to apologize for his harsh words, claiming last Friday that his references to any “list” of Islamics was meant to be sarcastic. After much of the exchange he had with opponents on social media had been trashed, he told news bureau NTB that comments had become anti-Semitic and that he’d been called a Nazi himself.

He initially showed no signs of remorse, claiming instead that also Members of Parliament like himself “can become furious, that’s just human.” He denied he really was keeping lists of immigrants or refugees that he wants to send back to their homelands.

Progress Party leader Sylvi Listhaug, a former justice minister herself, is shown here with Per-Willy Amundsen during a hearing on security issues She called his recent tirade “unacceptable” and was glad he’d resigned as leader of the Parliament’s justice committee. PHOTO: Stortinget

Progress Party leader Sylvi Listhaug, who has landed in trouble herself over offensive remarks, initially said she was satisfied that Amundsen had deleted his offensive remarks from Facebook and acknowledged that he should not have written what he did. By Sunday, however, the controversy around Amundsen was overshadowing a long-planned party meeting at which she wanted to all but launch the 2025 election campaign. After initially wanting to deal with him internally, she registered that his comments were generating very bad reaction.

And he was still defending himself, claiming he had done nothing illegal. Listhaug cracked down, however, and by Sunday afternoon Amundsen had resigned as leader of the justice committee in Parliament. “We’ve had enough of political scandals over stock market tradign, conflicts of interest, special favours for friends, abuse of commuter housing and travel,” he told newspaper Aftenposten. “I have not done anything illegal, but what I did has hurt the party.”

Drank too much
Then he claimed that he’d written his offensive remarks “while intoxicated,” telling newspaper Dagbladet he’d had “too many whiskys.” He even claimed he couldn’t remember actually publishing his otherwise error-free messages.

The damage was done, though, especially when Listhaug herself had to apologize for her party member’s offensive remarks. She told NRK that she was “very disappointed” over Amundsen’s behaviour adding that “it is not acceptable for our politicians to behave like that on social media. I now apologize for it on behalf of the party. We expect much better behaviour from our Members of Parliament.”

Asked whether she thought he’d been racist, she answered by merely saying “it was totally unacceptable. Beyond that I have no need to characterize it.”

It wasn’t the first time Amundsen, who served as justice minister from 2016-2018 in the Conservatives’ coalition government led by former Prime Minister Erna Solberg, had make controversial remarks. In 2020 he claimed that demonstrators against racism “had extreme leftist thinking.” In 2021 he said he didn’t think women made good soldiers, he was critical towards climate measures and immigration and in 2023 he said he though those involved with Gay Pride needed to learn to handle hatred. That was even after an Islamic terrorist had shot, killed and wounded 11 people celebrating Gay Pride in downtown Oslo.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg outside the Royal Palace in 2016 with her then-new ministers (from left) Frank Bakke-Jensen, Per-Willy Amundsen and Terje Søviknes. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

By Tuesday, four people and organizations had filed charges against Per-Willy Amundsen and the police launched their probe. “We want to see whether any laws have been broken,” Medby told NRK, “and whether the comments Amundsen made incite hatred, which is punishable by law.”

That’s their job, responded Progress Party officials including Jon Helgheim, who landed in trouble himself recently over alleged racism when he spearheaded an effort in Drammen to only take in Ukrainian refugees, not those from other countries. The leader of Norway’s Anti-Racism Center, Hatem Ben Mansour, said he was glad the police will investigate the complaints against Amundsen. So was Norway’s chapter of Amnesty International.

Speculation was rising over what all the noise will mean for Amundsen’s political career. The Progress Party can opt to suspend or exclude him from the party, limit his chances to take part in party events and to deny him public office. Few think he’ll ever be selected for a ministerial post again. Berglund



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