The conviction of Laila Bertheussen

From the performance 'Ways of Seeing'.

Today, on Friday 15 January 2021, Oslo District Court sentenced Laila Anita Bertheussen to 1 year and 8 months in prison for threats and attacks on democracy through arson, damage and threats against leading politicians. The court is clear that the motivation for the actions was to frame the artists behind the performance Ways of Seeing.

The fact that Bertheussen was found guilty of several of the charges is good news for the free performing arts and for Norway as a democracy. The verdict shows that we live in a well-functioning legal society where the consequences of dishonesty, abuse of power and threats to democracy are taken seriously and punished.

This has been a unique case where free artists and a programming theater were prosecuted and accused of violating privacy, and where artistic freedom was put under pressure. The situation has been challenging and vulnerable for the artists behind Ways of Seeing. The thorough investigation and extensive trial against Bertheussen has focused on the covert connection between government members, right-wing politicians and websites on the outer right wing, where threats against artists and restrictions on freedom of expression are part of a clear political agenda. The trial has also shown how Bertheussen has used false profiles to put the blame on the artists and the theater as well as on Oslo Bishop Kari Veiteberg.

We are relieved that the main culprit has been found guilty. At the same time, the trial has revealed the frightening fact that there is a strong, right-wing force out there consisting of more than just one person. The case has highlighted how false narratives can circulate. This encourages us to be more vigilant in the future. On 13 March 2019, Prime Minister Erna Solberg stated that the artists behind Ways of Seeing and Black Box Theater (quote) “must think about the fact that they also contribute to put focus on politicians and their surroundings and people, which contributes to it being tougher to be a politician”. Obviously, the judges look differently at the case. Now it is time to apologize.

We are glad about the verdict on behalf of Pia Maria Roll, Hanan Benammar and Sara Baban, who have been standing bravely in this storm! The artists have been victims in this case. The existence of political theater is a sign of health for any democracy, and Ways of Seeing has undoubtedly become an important piece in Norwegian theater history.