Protests in Front of Parliament Yesterday, Foreign Minister Accused of Possible Hate Speech Skip to content

Protests in Front of Parliament Yesterday, Foreign Minister Accused of Possible Hate Speech

By Andie Sophia Fontaine

Photo: @nklmljk/Nикоlа

Following remarks made by Foreign Minister and Independence Party chairperson Bjarni Benediktsson last Friday regarding both the tents of Palestinian protesters and their allies in front of Parliament in particular and asylum seekers in general, protests were held in front of Parliament yesterday. Attendees gathered both to criticise the government’s policies towards Palestinian asylum seekers and to call on the government to show substantial support for Palestine.

In addition, the refugee and asylum seeker assistance NGO Solaris has said that the Foreign Minister’s remarks possibly fall under Article 233a of the General Penal Code, which is Iceland’s law on hate speech.

Family re-unification

At around 3:00 PM yesterday afternoon, protesters gathered in front of Parliament, many bearing the Palestinian flag and slogans showing support for Palestine and the asylum seekers who have been camping in front of Parliament since December 27th. Mayor of Reykjavík Einar Þorsteinsson has said that they have a license to camp on this property, and that their protests have been peaceful. RÚV reports that the license is set to expire tomorrow, January 24th, but that an extension of this permit has been applied for.

Intense but peaceful

Those camping in front of Parliament are doing so in large part because Iceland’s government has an established policy of family re-unification for those granted international protection in Iceland. The government has been criticised for not assisting in retrieving family members of asylum seekers from Gaza, while Minister of Justice Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir has contended that the government is not obliged to do so.

They have also called for a meeting with relevant government ministers, and for authorities to cease deporting Palestinian asylum seekers from Iceland. As none of these demands have been met, and with the Foreign Minister’s recent remarks calling the tents “a tragedy” as well as calling for increased police powers and tightening border restrictions, protesters assembled en masse in front of Parliament yesterday afternoon, with many just outside the entrance. Police were called at that point, but saw no cause to intervene.

Minister has “neglected his government duties”

Meanwhile, Solaris responded to the Finance Minister’s remarks with a Facebook post of their own, saying in part:

“While the minister has neglected his governmental duties and continues to refuse to meet with the Palestinian community in Iceland with regards to family reunification for their family members in Gaza, he chooses instead to use his public influence to spread misinformation about community members at their most vulnerable moment.”

They accuse Bjarni Benediktsson of conflating those exercising their legal right to apply for international protection with organised crime. They add further that his remarks may well fall under Article 233a of the General Penal Code, often known as Iceland’s hate speech law, which states:

“Anyone who publicly mocks, defames, denigrates or threatens a person or group of persons by comments or expressions of another nature, for example by means of pictures or symbols, for their nationality, colour, race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, or disseminates such materials, shall be fined or imprisoned for up to 2 years.”

“Free to disagree”

For his part, Bjarni Benediktsson has dismissed this accusation, stating that people are free to have differences of opinion in a democratic society, including the opinion to disagree with his opinion.

Solaris also stated that they have witnessed numerous increased examples of hate speech, including threats and encouragement of violence towards people seeking international protection, and have filed charges with the police regarding some of them.

“This is a moment where we as a community must continue to show our rejection of deplorable attempts to undermine democracy, that we stand with and for human rights, hold our elected government officials accountable for their duties and intervene in hateful discourses against vulnerable members of our society,” they write in closing.

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