Reykjavík Mayor Einar Þorsteinsson has defended the right of Palestinian protesters to assemble on Austurvöllur square outside Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament, adding that the protest has been peaceful and that the protesters’ cause is sympathetic to all.
In a Facebook post Friday night, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Independence Party leader Bjarni Benediktsson called for tighter regulations for asylum seekers and increased border control. He posted a picture of tents pitched by Palestinian protesters outside Alþingi, saying that it was “incomprehensible” that this was allowed by Reykjavík authorities.
No formal complaint from Alþingi
In an interview with RÚV Saturday, Einar responded to Bjarni’s comment, saying that the city does not give permission for protests, as the right to protest is secured by the Icelandic constitution. He added, however, that in his opinion it wouldn’t be aesthetically pleasing if one group took over Austurvöllur square for weeks or months and stayed overnight in tents.
Einar, a city counsellor for the Progressive Party who took over as mayor on Tuesday, added that he had sympathy for the Palestinian families in question. “These are people who have lost family members and people who are waiting desperately for news of their loved ones and I think we all sympathise with this cause,” he said. “But it should be mentioned that the protests have been peaceful, which may be the reason that Alþingi hasn’t formally complained and the police has spoken positively about these protests.”
Limited to one tent
Einar went on to say that communications with the protesters had been good and that their license for camping had now been limited to only one tent, with no permission to stay there overnight. He said that other groups had since showed interest in camping, a regrettable development in his opinion, and that the city would revise its process in granting these licenses to make sure that Austurvöllur remains a forum for the public to protest and campaign for their causes.
The Palestinian protesters have been camped outside of Alþingi since December 27. The group has made three demands of Icelandic authorities. Firstly, to carry out family reunifications for residents of Gaza whom they have already granted visas. Secondly, a meeting with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Justice, and the Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market. Thirdly, to stop the ongoing deportations of Palestinian people in Iceland and grant them international protection.