During his freshmen year at University of Pennsylvania, Halvorsseen’s father was arrested as a result of investigating money laundering and bank fraud with the Medellín Cartel.
His father had investigated the bankers as they were behind the transactions that allowed no trace and a clean getaway. As his investigation inched closer to the cartel’s actions, the cartel took action and his father was imprisoned on charges of terrorism.
Halvorssen began leading a campaign in order to gather support from the media and human rights groups such as Amnesty International in order to free his father and expose the Medellín Cartel’s original intentions.
“There was something called LexisNexis which allows you to look at all the archives of newspapers,” Halvorssen said. “I did searches for drug trafficking, money laundering and journalists all over the world who covered this story. I read them and found myself the ones that cared most about the story. Then I started calling my father’s friends who were abroad, ambassadors, people in others government and said ‘Can you please please talk to journalists? Somebody has to tell the truth.’”
Within a week the newspapers started writing about his father’s imprisonment and the truth behind the false accusations and charges of terrorism.
“They would’ve never cared if somebody didn’t start make those phone calls. That’s what I did nonstop every day until they they freed him,” Halvorssen said, “All I had was two cellphones and a fax machine.”
Halvorssen’s father was found innocent and freed after 74 days because the lack of substantial evidence and as the scandal in the papers centralized on human right accusations were a sensitive topic. After undergoing his father’s imprisonment, it led Halvorssen to became judicial advisor at UPenn and join the school newspaper.
“I realized that if this could happen to my father, it could pretty much happen to anybody,” Halvorssen said. “My father came from a privileged background, his father had been a Norwegian ambassador in Venezuela. My dad also went to UPenn and went to fancy schools. He had everything right. If this could happen to him, it could happen to anybody. Due process [and] having evidence when you’re accused of something: this stuff really matters.”
His roles as a judicial advisor and journalist led him to the creation of the Humans Rights Foundation and Oslo Freedom Forum.
“I wanted to do something that was different,” Halvorssen said, “I realized that the human rights group that I called up for my dad’s imprisonment in reality had to be dragged kicking and screaming to help out they had become too big, too bureaucratized, too interested in just whatever they wanted do. [They weren't] really caring that much about the individual and their issues.”
Halvorssen uses journalism as a means as a means of reaching readers and bringing about change.
“What really hit me is the power of journalism and the absolute necessity of journalism,” Halvorssen said, “I can tell you there are 8 million people in prison in China right now for political crimes. But if I tell you the story of Harry Wu, who was a university student that gave one talk at school during show-and-tell in a Chinese school, made a comment about the communist government and was sentenced to 18 years of hard labor. Suddenly you start grasping the authoritarian in China and you start grasping on what happens to one person when they speak out. [Journalism is] about humanizing the story.”