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Calls on Icelandic Authorities to Tackle Hate Speech

If hate speech has no consequences for the individuals who spout it in Iceland, that could serve as a certain recognition that it is acceptable, according to Doctor of Anthropology and Assistant Professor of Police Science Eyrún Eyþórsdóttir. Eyrún told RÚV it is up to Icelandic authorities to take concrete measures against hate speech.

Icelandic media outlet Kjarninn withdrew an interview with deputy MP Lenya Rún Taha Karim from online circulation yesterday after the article received a flood of personal attacks against Lenya, including racism and hate speech, on social media. In the interview, Lenya Rún describes the disrespect and racism she has had to endure in Iceland as a person of foreign origin in the public sphere.

“The fact that people appear under their own name [on social media] and express themselves in this way, that can perhaps be traced to the fact that there have in fact been few consequences for people in Iceland who have [used hate speech],” Eyrún explains. “Perhaps a precedent has even been set for hate speech, and if it is left undisturbed, then it creates a certain recognition that it is maybe just OK.”

Authorities silent

“Nothing has been heard from the authorities, they haven’t condemned this type of hatred that is put forth against certain members of society, and that’s a shame,” Eyrún observes. “In many countries, authorities have laid down plans, invested money, created hate crime units within the police and other such things, as a strong emphasis is placed on tackling [hate speech].” Eyrún previously headed such a unit within the Capital Area Police Department, but it has since been dismantled.

The authorities themselves have been embroiled in a controversy regarding a racist remark made by Minister of Infrastructure Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson at a conference last month. Sigurður Ingi has been accused of violating the Parliamentary Code of Ethics by making the comment. Besides publishing an apology on his Facebook page, the minister has refused to discuss the incident.

“Hate speech is of the nature that the more well-known and powerful the people that use it are, the worse its effect is in society,” Eyrún says. It can cause others to take up such language, “because they think that if the nation’s officials can allow themselves to talk this way then it’s OK.”

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