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Retired Norway bishop risks jail over principles

Retired Norway bishop risks jail over principles

Gunnar Stålset, former bishop of Oslo and member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. Photo: Hans Fredrik Asbjørnsen/

05 December 2019

An 84-year-old former bishop of Oslo, Gunnar Stålsett, was ordered to appear in court because he illegally employed a woman from Eritrea who’d been denied asylum and wound up as an undocumented and rejected refugee.

Norwegian police want Stålsett sentenced to 45 days in jail. Stålsett has been a member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee and is also active in international peace efforts.

Stålsett told reporters that he was practicing “a form of civil disobedience for which I’ll take responsibility. It’s directed at what I view as an immoral law.”

He said to local newspapers: “I’m willing to take on that burden. It’s nothing compared with what undocumented immigrants have gone through for decades in Norway. They live in fear every day.”

Stålsett wants the law to be changed, calling it “immoral” because it leaves rejected refugees stranded in Norway with no working permission, no place to live, and no access to health care or social benefits.

In a comment, Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, says: ”Gunnar Stålsett has respectfully followed his conscience. That is what we should do when important principles and basic values, which we stand up for as church and nation, are at stake. It must be possible, also in Norway, to ensure all legal immigrants a decent life and the right to work, and at the same time protect non-returnable asylum seekers and others against cynical exploitation of their labour, and prevent illicit work”.

WCC member churches in Norway