Throughout the period of pandemic restrictions, Icelandic police sent hundreds of logs to media reporting breaches of gathering bans and social distancing regulations. One particular log, involving Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, has received more attention than any other, leading to phone calls from the Minister of Justice and an investigation by a Parliamentary committee. Now a leaked committee report has put the log under scrutiny again. The National Police Association is unsatisfied with how the matter has been handled.
“Honourable Minister” Mentioned in Police Log
In the early hours of December 24, 2020, media received logs from Reykjavík Capital Area Police describing how officers had broken up a large gathering in downtown Reykjavík the previous night. Iceland’s national gathering limit at the time was 10 individuals and social distancing of 2 metres was in effect. “Between 40-50 guests were gathered in the hall, and one honourable Minister of the Icelandic cabinet among them,” the log stated. Police reported that distancing regulations were “barely respected by anyone” at the event.
While police did not identify which minister was present at the gathering, it quickly came to light that it had been Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, Chairman of the Independence Party. Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir called the Capital Area Police Commissioner twice that day due to the log and according to RÚV’s sources asked whether she would issue an apology for its content. The Commissioner later stated she does not believe the Justice Minister’s phone calls constituted political intervention into police activities.
Committee Considers Police Conversation “Reprehensible”
The event organisers were fined, the matter was investigated by Parliament’s Constitutional and Supervisory Committee, and in the beginning of June a committee responsible for police supervision turned in a report that was leaked to media. The committee’s report includes a transcription of a conversation between two police officers who broke up the event:
What should the press release say? ‘Forty-person private party and nationally renowned individuals…’ Is that too much?
Not for me, I would read it. I knew two girls who were up there and they’re both Independence… like… social climbers.
The committee considered that conversation to be reprehensible and suggested it required further investigation. According to the report, the procedure of publishing media logs also required review. RÚV reports that the two officers did not write the log mentioning a minister present at the event.
National Police Association to File Complaint
Fjölnir Sæmundsson, Chairman of the National Police Association (LL) expressed surprise at the amount of attention the log has received. “This is almost censorship of police officer’s thoughts,” he stated, adding that he would have hoped police have as much a right to their personal thoughts as other citizens. “And then the other thing, their personal conversation is all of a sudden in the media, presumably verbatim.” LL will file a complaint with the Icelandic Data Protection Authority regarding the use of the recordings. “They are not saying this within hearing distance of others, they are standing at a distance and talking to each other and are just waiting for people to leave the building.” It bears noting that the officers have not been personally identified in the report or the media.
The transcribed comments above were originally edited out of the recordings police submitted for committee investigation. The decision to edit the recordings before submitting them has raised questions about police’s ability to tamper with such recordings.