John-Reier Martinsen

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Person.png John-Reier Martinsen  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
"Sami Activist Killed on Purpose"
Born3 March 1955
Died1 February 1986 (Age 30)
Victim ofassassination
Interests • Norway/Stay Behind
• Sami

John-Reier Martinsen was a Norwegian Sami activist and central committee member of the Maoist party AKP (m-l)[1], who lost his life in an "accident" on February 1, 1986. [2]

Political Background

The late 1970s and early 1980s was a politically tense era in Sami areas. A group of Sami activists protested against the traditional docility, and raised the level of activism and demands.

Martinsen was a member of the Maoist party AKP (m-l), from 1984 on the party's central committee. During and after the big Alta environmental controversy in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he worked to recruit radical Sami from the Sami organizations to fight against what he regarded as the Scandinavian nation state's illegal occupation of Sami territories (Sápmi / Sameland) and the oppression of the Sami peope.

In 1982, Martinsen and his friend Niillas A. Somby tried, but failed, to blow up a bridge to stop a development project. The explosive charge accidentally went off and destroyed Somby's arm and eye as a result of the explosion. The bridge received no significant damage. Martinsen made sure to bring Somby to hospital and then reported to the police. They were both charged with arson, with a maxiimum potential sentence of 21 years. After six months in custody, Somby escaped via Finland to Canada where he and his family were kept hidden by various Indian tribes. John-Reier Martinsen was convicted of vandalism and served a total of one year in prison.

Some of those who were most active in this movement were met with murder threats, even attempted murder, occupational bans, telephone tapping and financial harassment. This was not just from reactionary individuals. The Norwegian part of Sameland is also a NATO sensitive area. Stay behind was well developed. The reaction was organized in the Labor Party. From these areas came many calls to use force against Sami activists, nature conservationists and communists. John-Reier belonged to all three categories.

The "Accident"

He and his friend Hermann Hansen were dog sledding across the frozen Lake Joatka, on the way home from Alta back to Karasjok after watching a competition. They had been driving for three or four hours. It was dark, but good visibility and good dog sledding conditions. Both had headlights on their heads and reflexes on the dogs. The distance between the two dog teams was a few hundred meters.

A snowmobile came in the opposite direction. The driver, a 19 year old male, had been in a cabin a little further away and went down to Alta again. The well-worn snowmobile trail across the lake is four meters wide. The track in the snow afterwards shows that Martinsen and his dog team stood two meters to the side of the well worn trail when the scooter approaches. 15-20 meters before they meet, the scooter driver swerves off the track and steers straight towards the dog team and Martinsen. He hits the sled, killing Martinsen and many of his dogs.

The scooter driver then repeats the maneuver further on, against Hermann Hansen and his dog team. He turns off the scooter trail when he is 15-20 meters away, aims at the dog team and drives down a couple of the dogs. Then he turns onto the scooter trail and drives on, towards the village. Hansen is injured. When he arrives at the first dog team, he finds John-Reier Martinsen dead, along with dead and half-dead dogs. A later autopsy shows that John-Reier died of such severe "blunt force" against the temple that he suffered crushing injuries to the brain.

Hermann Hansen sees traces of footsteps in the snow next to the dead. There are human footprints, but not from John-Reier's boots. It is a long way to other people who may have made such tracks, apart from the snowmobile driver. The police later failed to secure this evidence.

On the way down to the village, the killer meets two other snowmobile drivers. The newspaper Klassekampen writes that he a couple of days later boasted "that he had 'cut down some dogs' on Lake Joatka." The 19-year-old driver went to a party when he was back in the village, then home.

Court Proceedings

In June 1987, the scooter driver was in court, charged with "negligent murder" of John-Reier Martinsen. Because the prosecution had formulated the indictment in this way, he could not be convicted of premeditated murder, no matter what evidence appeared in court.

The conspicuously sloppy investigation and inconsistencies include:

  • The 19-year-old accused killer told the Hålogaland Court of Appeal about the first thing he did after he was picked up by his father:

"I wanted to go to the sheriff's office to sort out the case and state that it was not me who had done this, but when I got there and had to explain myself, I was asked not to say anything before I had a lawyer. "Who had told you not to explain yourself?" the prosecutor asked. "One of the sheriff's officers, the defendant replied."

It is not often that someone who has been charged with murder tells the court about such extra service at their first meeting with the sheriff or the police, beyond what is required by law. When the two sheriff's officers explained themselves in court, both said that only the other had spoken to the killer this morning. One of the two must have been lying.

  • On June 11, the dog sled of John Reier Martinsen was shown in the courtroom, with traces of blood on the right ski. Investigation documents in the case shows that no samples of this blood were taken. The court did not get to know whether it is human blood or dog blood.
  • The investigation did not provide a definite answer as to how John-Reier was killed. Prosecutor "assumed" that the snowmobile is the murder weapon. This must mean that the scooter took off so much from the ground that one ski hit John-Reier in the temple. When defender Olav Hestenes asked for the lantern that John Reier had on his head, the prosecutor answers that "I, at least, do not have it" The prosecutor then addresses the question to the sheriff's officers from Alta and the family members of the victim. No one has the lantern. It does not get any better when the defender asks where the presumed murder weapon - the snowmobile - is. A sheriff's officer states that the defendant received it back some five or six months ago. The accused explains that for his part he repaired the scooter and sold it to someone who also allegedly sold it on. Such handling of an alleged murder weapon is not common, at least not before the trial has ended.
  • A dog sledder fastens the sled with a snow anchor when he stops the dog team. John Reier Martinsen used a four-five kilo heavy V-shaped piece of iron as a snow anchor. There were spikes on it so that it would hold well in hard snow. When the prosecutor showed slides in court, everyone saw that there were traces of blood on the snow anchor too. The expert from the national investigation unit KRIPOS got up spontaneously in court and walked up to the screen and stated that "there are probably some blood clots or something like that here, yes". When the prosecutor asks the sheriff's officer if they have investigated whether there was blood or something like that on the anchor, she only gets a silent nod in response. The prosecutor picks up the anchor from the floor and states that "there is nothing here now at least". The sheriff's officer is pale and restless and says that they probably examined the anchor if there were blood on it. But there is not a word about blood samples from the snow anchor in the documents that were sent to KRIPOS for analysis.

The snowmobile driver was convicted of manslaughter.


  1. Pål Steigan: En samfunnsfiende, Aschehoug 2011, page 417