The Freedom of Expression Foundation Prize for 2015 is awarded to whistleblowers Robin Schaefer and Jan Erik Skog for their courageous efforts to expose circumstances worthy of criticism in Norwegian working life.
"The gap between being right and having a right can be immense, and there are many who have suffered a totally different fate than me", stated Robin Schaefer in his acceptance speech. He said that he accepted the Freedom of Expression Foundation Prize with the greatest respect for Kristina Sviglinskaja and to honour the memory of Monika Sviglinskaja.
"It was like balancing on a tight rope - a wrong move would have been disastrous. I knew that I had no future with my company if I blew the whistle", stated Jan Erik Skog in his speech. He would nevertheless recommend that others blow the whistle: "However, you have to expect with adversity and heavy going. You have to fight against powerful forces. Do not stand alone. Be sure you have supporters on the inside and the outside", said Skog.
"The big question going forward is whether the right people will dare to come forward with criticism when they know what stress whistleblowers are subject to", emphasised Fritt Ord Foundation Chair Georg Fr. Rieber-Mohn in his speech at the awards ceremony. He urged the establishment of routines, not least in the public sector, to pave the way for employees to express their concerns without risk of reprisals. "These are, of course, institutions and enterprises intended for the general public and establishing routines would make Norwegian society an even better place to live for all of us", commented Rieber-Mohn.
Schaefer and Skog have pointed out serious deficiencies in the investigation of a homicide and in connection with corruption in the public sector, respectively. There are many indications that it has not become any easier to be a whistleblower in Norway in recent years. There is little tolerance for criticism or reproval in many sectors of society, and whistleblowers are more often met with resistance and ostracism than with any constructive willingness to cooperate. "It is the hope of the Fritt Ord Foundation that the efforts made by Robin Schaefer and Jan Erik Skog will help draw attention to the important role of whistleblowers in society, and make it easier for future whistleblowers to be dealt with in a professional manner. This is why they deserve the Freedom of Expression Foundation Prize for 2015," concludes Chair of the Board Georg Fr. Rieber-Mohn.
The Fritt Ord Foundation Prize is the Foundation's highest distinction. The prize of NOK 400 000 will be shared between this year's two recipients. The prize is accompanied by the Fritt Ord Foundation statuette made by Nils Aas. The awards ceremony took place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, 7 May 2015, at the Norwegian Opera & Ballet in Oslo.
More about Robin Schaefer
In January 2014, Police Detective Robin Schaefer (45) notified the leadership of the Hordaland County Police District about what he perceived to be serious weaknesses in the investigation of the death of eight-year-old Monika Sviglinskaja. Eighteen months earlier, the case had been declared a suicide and closed. Robin Schaefer's criticism of the investigation was rejected by the administration. He finally contacted the mother's legal counsel Stig Nilsen, a choice recognised as decisive for getting the case re-opened in May 2014.
In the book "The Monika Case. My Story - from Homicide Detective to Whistleblower", published in February 2015, Robin Schaefer describes how he was asked to keep his doubts to himself, and how he was ultimately ordered to stay away from the case entirely. Despite negative reactions from his superior officers, Robin Schaefer followed his conscience, helping to re-open a serious homicide case while revealing circumstances worthy of criticism in Norway's second largest police district. This whistleblowing case has already helped facilitate changes in the rules for closing cases involving suspicious deaths.
Robin Schaefer is a police superintendent at the Joint Operations Unit, Section for Analysis and Records, Central Bergen Police Station. He was formerly a detective in the Special Section for the Investigation of Violent Crimes and Vice at the same place. He has completed further training in the investigation of violence and homicide, and he has leadership training from the Police Academy.
More about Jan Erik Skog
Over a 10-year period, Union Representative Jan Erik Skog (69) notified the Oslo City Council and the boards of directors of AS Sporveisbussene (UniBuss) and Oslo Sporveier (KTP) about a number of circumstances worthy of criticism in the companies that operate Oslo Municipality's public transportation systems. As the employees' representative, he reported several cases of corruption, including gross overcharging, paid junkets and purchase agreements signed with individuals closely associated with management.
Skog stood by his conviction that these conditions needed to be investigated, even when extensive documentation submitted from 2000 to 2009 was not followed up. He has described the period as difficult. It was first in 2011, when a sales manager with the bus manufacturer MAN in Germany was convicted for bribing buyers from UniBuss, among others, that the allegations of corruption were taken seriously.
Jan Erik Skog's whistleblowing resulted in the clean up of one of the most widespread corruption cases in Norway in our time. In December 2014, six of the main figures in the UniBuss case were sentenced to prison for a total of 23 years. All the verdicts have been appealed, but some of the appeals apply only to the sentencing.
Skog was a union representative in Sporveisbussene/UniBuss from the time the company was founded in 1997 and up to 2009. The former bus electrician is now retired.
The Fritt Ord Foundation
The Fritt Ord Foundation's Board of Trustees consists of Georg Fr. Rieber-Mohn (Chair), Grethe Brochmann (Deputy Chair), Christian Bjelland, Liv Bliksrud, Alexandra Bech Gjørv, Guri Hjeltnes, Frank Rossavik and Sigrun Slapgard.
The Fritt Ord Foundation is a private non-profit foundation that aspires to promote freedom of expression, public debate, art and culture.
Link to the evening's speeches
(in Norwegian only).