Young campaigners protesting wind farms block one of the entrances...

Young campaigners protesting wind farms block one of the entrances to The Prime Minister's Office in Oslo, Norway, Friday, June 2, 2023. A group of 18 activists that were charged for not paying the fines they were given when they blocked several entrances to Norwegian government offices in 2023 over a wind farm that they say hinders the rights of the Sami Indigenous people to raise reindeer, were Tuesday, April 9 2024, acquitted by an Oslo court. Credit: AP/Lise Aserud

COPENHAGEN — A Norwegian court on Tuesday ruled that police acted unreasonably when they fined 18 activists for blocking entrances to government buildings last year, and acquitted the activists of charges of failing to pay the fines.

The group had taken part in actions in February and March 2023 over a wind farm that they say hinders the rights of the Sami Indigenous people to raise reindeer.

In its ruling, the court concluded “that it is neither necessary nor proportionate to react with a fine in the present case here.” It noted in particular that the activists were protesting about the continued operation of the wind farm despite an earlier Supreme Court judgment that the construction of the turbines had violated the rights of the Sami, who have used the land for reindeer for centuries.

Lawyers for activists said that the ruling “marks an important milestone for freedom of assembly and expression in Norway,” and that the court “found that the interventions by the state — the order to end the demonstration, the carrying out, the bringing to the police station and punitive action — overall violated the defendants' right to participate in peaceful assemblies and demonstrations.”

There are 151 turbines at Europe’s largest onshore wind farm, which is located in central Norway’s Fosen district, about 450 kilometers (280 miles) north of the capital, Oslo. The activists say a transition to green energy shouldn’t come at the expense of the rights of Indigenous people.

They have demonstrated repeatedly against the wind farm’s continued operation since the Supreme Court ruling in October 2021.

On Feb. 27, 2023, thirteen of them occupied the entrance hall of the Norwegian Energy Ministry and on March 2 five others blocked access to the Finance Ministry. They were removed by police and given fines of up for 5,000 kroner ($467) for not complying with the police order to leave the sites. They refused to pay the fines and were charged for not doing so.

The Oslo District Court on Tuesday said there is “no ‘particular justification’ to respond with a fine or other punitive action, meaning (the activists) must be acquitted.”

Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen, one of the activists, told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that she was surprised by the ruling.

“We had prepared for the worst, so the fact that we are all acquitted feels very good," she said.

Last month, the Norwegian government reached an agreement with the Sami people under which all of the the partially state-owned farm’s turbines will stay in operation. The Sami will receive compensation — including a share of energy produced — along with a new area for winter grazing and a grant of 5 million kroner ($467,000) for strengthening Sami culture.

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