By an activist.
The police often intervene in demonstrations. In many cities, the police and the municipality may require that one “applies” to be allowed to host a demonstration. Many activists have seen how they can stack up more and more arbitrary demands. But what do the police and the law say about the right to demonstrate?
First – the police do not primarily operate to uphold the law. Many have this impression, but first and foremost, the police are a part of the bourgeois state’s apparatus of violence. They have a class character. They are there to protect the system and the state apparatus, not least capitalism.
Secondly, the police seek to uphold “peace and order”. Legislation becomes a means – a tool – that they use for this goal. Yet often, the police will decide to step in to hinder somebody before they have made a clear attempt to commit a crime. Many have experienced that the police will often step in first, and then only after will they attempt to find a law on the books that justifies their intervention.
Nonetheless – and thirdly and lastly – the police do and say things that are not authorized by law. They often violate the laws, and often lie, and this is why as an activist, one should not believe that the law will protect them.
When these three things are said, it is nonetheless interesting to see what the law says, what the police say, and to attempt to use this in practice.
The Constitution supersedes all other laws in Norway. On demonstrations, it reads:
Everyone has the right to form, join and leave associations, including trade unions and political parties.
All people may meet in peaceful assemblies and demonstrations.
The Government is not entitled to employ military force against citizens of the state, except in accordance with the law, unless an assembly disturbs the public peace and does not immediately disperse after the articles of the statute book relating to riots have been read out clearly three times by the civil authority(§101 – emphasis ours, ed. note.)
In other words, everyone can host a demonstration as long as they are “peaceful” and no other restrictions mentioned in the Constitution apply.
There is an independent law for the police, the Police Law (politiloven) and it says the following about demonstrators:
Those who wish to use a public space for demonstrations, parades, meetings, stands, or similar, shall in good time give advance notice to the police regarding the event.(§11, our translation from the original Norwegian, ed. note.)
The Police Law outlines the following stipulations of such notice:
Notice, as referred to in the first paragraph, shall in general be delivered in writing and contain information about the event’s purpose, scope, responsible organizer, time, location, and the measures that the organizer will put in place.Our translation
Note that the law does not place any stipulations on who the responsible organizer is. Does it need to be an organization or can it be an individual? The law does not say anything about this.
The police can deny events referred to in the first paragraph, but only when there is reason to believe that it can cause serious disturbances of public peace and order or legal behavior, or that the stated intended purpose of the event or the manner in which it is to occur violates the law.Our translation and emphasis, ed. note.
It is worth considering the word “serious” here. In other words, there is room for interpretation, and “some” disturbance is not enough to deny an event.
Further, it states that:
Conditions may also be applied for the settlement to prevent such disturbances or violations referred to in the third paragraph. This may include requiring that participants in the demonstration or similar actors may not bring objects that are designed to threaten or cause harm.
It is forbidden to participate in an event as referred in the first paragraph while wearing a mask, with the exception of participants in a play, masquerade, or similar.
Further, the law gives the police a number of opportunities to disperse or cease demonstrations that threaten peace and order.
In a ‘Clarification of Rules for Hosting Demonstrations‘ published by the police directorate in 2017, the directorate writes:
The primary rule in Police Law §11 is those who wish to use a public space for demonstrations, parades, meetings, stands, or similar, shall in good time give advance notice to the police regarding the event. In other words, it is not an application, and the police therefore does not issue permits.Our translation and emphasis, ed. note.
Further, they write:
If an event – with or without notice – causes or creates the basis for serious disturbances of public peace and order or legal behavior, the stated intended purpose of the event or the manner in which it is to occur violates the law, or if violations of the law are made in connection with the demonstration or event in regards to established conditions, the police may halt or disburse the event. How the police deal with such a situation will depend on the specific situation, and what the regard for order and public safety indicates there and then.
This was a clarification that was made after the police protected an unannounced Nazi demonstration in Kristiansand.
Politiforum is an interesting website for those who wish to learn more about the police. There are discussions held here, as well as posts regarding police work and methods. In the article ‘The gray zone between legal and illegal“, police lawyer Kai Spurkland writes:
The obligation to notify police requires a certain threshold of volume for the event. Two people who walk around handing out leaflets are unlikely to have an obligation to notify police, but if there are more and they use effects such as sound systems, banners, or drums, they will in general have an obligation to notify.Our translation and emphasis, ed. note.
The article is written with the Nazi demonstration as its starting point, but clarifies the jurisprudence regarding all other demonstrations. It is interesting to note here that the lawyer maintains that handing out flyers does not even require notice. It must in other words be understood to mean that there is free reign for such activity in public.
Further, the police lawyer writes something that is even more interesting:
The police cannot halt a demonstration simply because it has not been announced in advance. There must be a reasonable cause for doing so. That the demonstration has not been announced in advance will, on the other hand, lower the threshold for disrupting the demonstration.
The police can only deny demonstrations when there is reasonable concern for disruption of public order, or when the expressed purpose of the demonstration is illegal. The threshold for denying demonstrations entirely is incredibly high, but the police have the authority to place restrictions on it.Our translation and emphasis, ed. note.
In conclusion, we can add that in practice, we often see that the police will consider the situation and their own forces. If they see a demonstration with many participants, while they themselves are few in number, then they have often chosen not to intervene even if they would otherwise wish to. If they believe that the situation will escalate, or if they feel that they are beginning to lose control of the situation, they will often hold back. We have also seen that they have a much lower threshold for intervening against “peaceful” antifascists than they do for “non-peaceful” Nazis. In other words, it is often contrary to what most would believe. The police is more afraid of losing face in a violent confrontation than for being criticized for allowing a “illegal” demonstration.
There is reason to believe that if one refers to the law and refuses to yield, they will be able to come out on top in regards to individual officers.
Nonetheless, this activist urges people not to submit to police or other authorities. Power can only be won through revolutionary struggle; as Rudolf Nilsen said, “in spite of the law to victory”. A law-abiding movement is a system-loyal movement. When this is said, to struggle when one cannot win is also a mistake. Therefore, good leaders need to be able to maneuver themselves – learn to master the art of being both principled and flexible. Knowledge of the opposition and their strengths and weaknesses is a prerequisite for good maneuvering.