In the post last Friday, Sylvi Listhaug, a member of the populist and anti-immigration Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, FrP), had accused the opposition Labour Party of considering “the rights of terrorists (to be) more important than the security of the nation”.
Listhaug, whose party is a member of a centre-right coalition, was angry at Labour’s rejection of a proposal to strip jihadists of their Norwegian citizenship without a court decision.
The post, which contained a photo showing threatening Al-Shabab militants, sparked outrage because Labour members had been targeted in 2011 in the worst attack on Norwegian soil since the end of the Second World War.
On July 22nd that year, right-wing extremist Anders Breivik, who once was a member of the FrP, killed 77 people in twin attacks: one targeting then-Labour prime minister Jens Stoltenberg’s office in Oslo and another against a Labour youth camp on the island of Utøya.
Hours after Listhaug withdrew her post, Prime Minister Erna Solberg issued an apology on behalf of her government after coming under fire for not voicing unequivocal disapproval of her minister.
“On behalf of the government … I wish to present my apologies because the rhetoric used by the government hurt people,” Solberg, a conservative, told reporters.
“Norway has a special link with terrorism since July 22nd (2011). That means we have to pay special attention in discussions on terrorism, because we have people in society who have experienced it in the most appalling manner,” Solberg said.
But the PM took six days to issue an apology on behalf of her government, having previously avoided commenting before then saying that the justice minister’s post had “crossed a line.”
On Thursday, Solberg said she expected Listhaug to also apologise over the Facebook post.
“Sylvi Listhaug supports the government’s apology. She will confirm that herself, you can expect that during the course of today,” the PM told NRK‘s Politisk Kvarter programme.
Listhaug’s message coincided with the release of the first film in Norway devoted to the 2011 atrocities.
Labour leader Jonas Gahr Støre accused the minister of stoking “the hatred that led to the July 22nd (massacre)”.
Socialist Left party leader Audun Lysbakken said he would table a motion of no-confidence against Listhaug, a move that could put the minority government in a difficult situation, because its centrist allies, who have always been critical of Listhaug, would be forced to decide.
Pressured to apologise, the justice minister on Tuesday posted another message on Facebook saying she did not mean or intend to hurt anyone.
She finally withdrew the controversial post, arguing that rights issues prohibited the use of the Al-Shabab photo for political purposes.