Ministry of Finance Opposed Hiring of Icelander for Nordic Editorship

An employee of Iceland’s Ministry of Finance opposed the appointment of Þorvaldur Gylfason, Professor of Economics at the University of Iceland, as editor of the Nordic Economic Policy Review, alleging he was too politically active for the post. Kjarninn reports that Þorvaldur believed he had been hired for the position, only for the offer to be withdrawn following a discussion between Ministries of Finance within the Nordic Council of Ministers.

Emails Suggested Þorvaldur Had Been Hired

Launched in 2009 by the Nordic Ministers of Finance, the Nordic Economic Policy Review is an annual periodical. In early November last year, Þorvaldur received an email from the Nordic Council of Ministers implying he had been hired for the position. “We very much look forward to having you and your expertise with us on the coming editions of the NEPR. And Kjell Nilsson (director at Nordreigo) will help you out with any further practical information for the editorship,” an email stated. In a letter to Þorvaldur, Iceland’s Ministry of Finance claimed he was never officially hired for the position, rather was one of several candidates being considered.

An email exchange later that month between a staff member of Iceland’s Ministry of Finance with a Finnish colleague shows the staff member stated “Iceland is not able to suggest or support Gylfason as editor […] but would rather like to propose an Icelander for the job at a later time than to suggest Gylfason now.” The Finnish colleague replied stating they were “really surprised” by the position Iceland’s Ministry of Finance was taking, adding that public information suggested Þorvaldur “would be a very good candidate.”

Ministry Based Opinion on Wikipedia Article

In their response, the Finance Ministry staff member stated that Þorvaldur was “politically active. He has been, and to the best of our knowledge still is, chairman of the Iceland Democratic Party. We don’t find it appropriate that such a politically active person, particularly someone who chairs a political party, is editor of NEPR.”

Þorvaldur did serve as chairman of the party when it was formed in 2013. It did not win a seat in parliament and he left the position later that same year and has not been active in politics since. Iceland’s Ministry of Finance has since apologised for the mistake, stating in a letter to Kjarninn that the information was based on Þorvaldur’s Wikipedia page, which had been out of date. Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson has stated that he had not been informed about Þorvaldur’s candidacy for the position but “in this case it reflects my desire to neither nominate nor approve Þorvaldur Gylfason for this position. In fact I would have never conceived of the possibility and no one mentioned it to me.”

Þorvaldur has claimed that he still has the right to the editorship as the job offer was never officially revoked in writing. His lawyer has contacted the Nordic Council of Ministers stating Þorvaldur reserves all rights to claim damages from the Council.

Iceland’s National Police Commissioners Meet to Discuss Prejudice Within Force

police car

Iceland’s National Police Commissioner has asked Dr. Margrét Valdimarsdóttir, Assistant Professor of Police Science at the University of Akureyri, to meet with the country’s police commissioners next week. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss research on prejudice in policing and explore the possibility of conducting studies on prejudice within Iceland’s police force. Margrét says that very little research has been carried out on prejudice within Icelandic policing.

“I hope everyone realises how positive this is,” Margrét stated in a tweet about the invitation, praising recently-appointed National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir for her openness to discuss the issue. Policing has been a hot topic around the world following the death of George Floyd on May 25 at the hands of US police and the ensuing wave of protests.

Read More: Over 3,000 Attend Black Lives Matter Meeting in Iceland

Margrét told Vísir reporters that the National Police Commissioner’s invitation was a step in the right direction. “The fact that she has the initiative is a sign of strength and humility.” Sigríður was appointed to the position last March, the first woman to serve as National Police Commissioner in Iceland. Her predecessor, Haraldur Johannessen stepped down last year following 22 years in the position, shortly after eight out of nine of the country’s police commissioners declared they did not trust Haraldur’s leadership.  “Police commissioners have been interested in making changes, but the national commissioner administration has been slow on the uptake,” West Iceland Police Commissioner Úlfar Lúðvíksson told RÚV in September 2019.

Though Icelandic police do not carry guns and Iceland has topped the Global Peace Index for 12 years, there have been cases where police involvement has led to civilian death in Iceland. Last spring, 25-year-old Hekla Lind Jónsdóttir died following a conflict with police, who interfered when she was in a psychotic state. The police officers were not charged even though a forensic specialist confirmed that their actions played a significant role in her death.

European Court of Human Rights Backs Icelandic Court in Hate Speech Case

European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rejected a complaint from Carl Jóhann Lilliendahl, who was convicted for homophobic hate speech by the Supreme Court of Iceland. Carl Jóhann made homophobic comments in response to an online article in April 2015 and was eventually fined ISK 100,000 (around €800 at the time). The ECHR unanimously declared Carl Jóhann’s application inadmissible.

Comments Ruled “Serious, Severely Hurtful, and Prejudicial”

In April 2015, the local authorities of Hafnarfjörður, Southwest Iceland, approved a proposal to strengthen education in elementary and secondary schools on lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender matters in co-operation with the National Queer Association (Samtökin ‘78). The decision led to substantial public discussion which Carl Jóhann became involved in. The case concerns comments he wrote in response to an online article on the issue, expressing his disgust and using derogatory words for homosexuality, namely kynvilla (sexual deviation) and kynvillingar (sexual deviants).

Samtökin ‘78 reported Carl’s comments to the police. Following an investigation, he was indicted in November 2016 under Article 233 (a) of the General Penal Code which penalises publicly mocking, defaming, denigrating or threatening a person or group of persons for certain characteristics, including their sexual orientation or gender identity. Though he was acquitted at first instance, in December 2017, the Supreme Court overturned the court’s judgment and convicted him, fining him ISK 100,000.

The Supreme Court found that the applicant’s comments were “serious, severely hurtful and prejudicial,” and weighing up the competing rights at play in the case, ruled that it was justified and necessary to curb the applicant’s freedom of expression in order to counteract prejudice, hatred and contempt and protect the rights of social groups which have historically been subjected to discrimination.

Argued Freedom of Expression Was Breached

Carl Jóhann lodged a complaint with the ECHR alleging that the Supreme Court’s conviction had breached his freedom of expression. The ECHR has now rejected the complaint, finding, like the Supreme Court of Iceland, “that the comments had promoted intolerance and hatred of homosexuals,” according to a press release from the Court. The release goes on to say that, although the comments did not amount to the “gravest” form of hate speech as it was not immediately clear that they had aimed at inciting violence, they fell under the court’s definition of “less grave” hate speech, which the court has previously held that states were allowed to restrict.

The ECHR found that the Supreme Court of Iceland “had extensively weighed the competing interests at stake, namely the applicant’s right to freedom of expression against the rights of homosexual persons to private life. The Court therefore found that the applicant’s complaint […] was manifestly ill-founded and rejected it as inadmissible.”