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palestine protest
Photo: Jelena Ćirić .

Protestors Filing Case Against Police

Eight people are filing a legal case against capital area police for what they consider to be an unlawful use of force and an attempt to shut down a peaceful and constitutionally protected protest, following the police use of pepper spray during a demonstration on May 31.

When and how the pepper spray was used

As reported, the protest was organised in part by the Iceland-Palestine Association to take place at Skuggasund, in an area where a meeting of government ministers was being held. When ministerial vehicles arrived, some protestors laid down in front of them in order to hinder their passage. Police ordered them to let the vehicles through. When they did not, pepper spray was deployed.

Article 19 on the Law on Police stipulates that any disobedience of a direct order from the police is a violation of the law. However, Article 14, which gives the police permission to use force, stipulates that the use of force must never exceed what was needed in an individual instance. Furthermore, Article 73 of the Icelandic constitution guarantees freedom of expression, albeit with the caveat that this right “may only be restricted by law in the interests of public order or the security of the State”.

In addition, at this particular protest, photos and videos taken at the event show pepper spray also being used after ministerial vehicles have left, and against people who do not appear to be resisting.

The matter reached the halls of government, with Minister of Social Affairs and Labour Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson calling for an investigation into the use of pepper spray in this instance.

Power carries responsibility

Speaking with Vísir, assistant chief of police Kristján Helgi Þráinsson told reporters, “There was a protest and people did not obey police orders. So we needed to use pepper spray.”

Daníel Þór Bjarnason, who is one of the protestors involved in the case against the police and was himself pepper sprayed, sustained injuries to his eyes in the incident. Between 20 to 30 protesters went to hospital for treatment following being pepper sprayed. He and seven other demonstrators later met to discuss the incident, some of them with physical injuries and still in distress over what happened, and sought the help of a lawyer to file a grievance.

He told reporters that the case is not just about them, but also about the right to protest; that people should be free to protest peacefully without fear of violence being used against them. He added: “If we let this stand, there is the danger that this will become more and more normalised. The police require checks like any other part of the government. The police should be held to a higher standard than this.”

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