Police Use Pepper Spray on Protesters Outside Parliament

palestine protests alþingi

Police used pepper spray on protesters outside Alþingi last night, June 12. A Pirate Party MP reports that the protest had been peaceful and that the pepper spray was deployed when the vehicle of a government minister needed to leave Alþingi.

Last chance to protest

Pro-Palestinian activists organized a demonstration in front of Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament, last night. As Alþingi will soon go into its summer recess, it was the last chance for demonstrators to be heard for this session of parliament.

Pro-Palestinian activists were also joined by anti-whaling activists protesting Minister of  Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir’s recent decision to grant Hvalur hf. a one-year whaling permit.

Several Pirate Party MPs present

RÚV reports that several MPs from the Pirate Party were also present for the peaceful demonstration, including Andrés Ingi Jónsson. He stated to RÚV that the demonstrators could be heard throughout the entire parliamentary session.

“When we arrived, people had gathered near Dómkirkja church and then positioned themselves in front of the entrance to the parking garage, where they were just beating drums and shouting slogans,” he stated to RÚV.  “Shortly after that, the police started to try to disperse the group, and, in my opinion, resorted to pepper spray rather quickly instead of trying to calm the situation.”

Minister’s car tried to leave

Another Pirate Party MP, Gísli Rafn Ólafsson, was present when the pepper spray was used on the protesters. He stated to RÚV that the demonstration had been peaceful and that the escalation in the use of force by police officers seems to have coincided with a minister’s (reportedly Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson) vehicle attempting to leave Alþingi.

Andrés Ingi stated to RÚV that he did not see specifically whose vehicle was leaving Alþingi, but that he found it “quite severe to resort to pepper spray just to let some cars pass.”

Many children and elderly people were also reportedly at the scene.

 

 

 

 

 

New Mayor Sympathises With Protesters

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.

Pitch Tents Outside Parliament in Protest

No Borders Iceland / Facebook. Palestinian protesters camp outside Iceland's parliament

Local activists slept in tents in front of the Icelandic Parliament on Saturday night in solidarity with Palestinian protesters who have camped there since December 27. They criticise Icelandic authorities for not doing more to bring residents of Gaza who already hold Icelandic visas to the country.

“We won’t stop or back down until our demands are met,” Askur Hrafn Hannesson, one of the Icelandic activists who slept outside Parliament this weekend told RÚV. He says over 40 people joined the group of Palestinians who have been camping outside Alþingi for nearly two weeks.

Asking to be reunited with family members in Gaza

Most of the Palestinian protesters have family members who have been granted residence visas in Iceland on the basis of family reunification but are still stuck in Gaza. The group is calling on Icelandic authorities to do more to retrieve their family members from the strip, where over 30,000 people have been killed by Israeli attacks since October 7 and conditions are life-threatening.

While Icelandic authorities say the Rafah border crossing between Palestine and Egypt is closed, a statement from the group of protestors points out that countries such as the UK, Canada, Germany, Norway, and Sweden received refugees from Gaza in December.

Three demands to Icelandic authorities

The group has made three demands of Icelandic authorities. Firstly, to carry out the family reunifications for which 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.

Since October 7, protests and solidarity actions in support of Palestine have been held in Iceland regularly, with the next scheduled for tomorrow at 9:00 AM outside the cabinet meeting at Tjarnargata 32.

Over 3,000 Attend Black Lives Matter Meeting in Iceland

Black lives matter protest Reykjavík

Austurvöllur square, in front of Iceland’s Parliament building, filled with over 3,000 people yesterday afternoon for a solidarity meeting organised by African Americans living in Iceland. The meeting began with an emotional moment of silence lasting eight minutes and 46 seconds – the length of time police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck, leading to Floyd’s death in Minnesota on May 25.

“It was great for thinking about these issues, not just about George Floyd, but everyone that came before,” Derek T. Allan, one of the organisers of the protest, told Vísir. “The atmosphere was something else, it’s difficult to describe. It warms the heart to see so many and that they were here to listen to us.”

Police in Attendance

One Black Icelander that spoke to reporters pointed out that Iceland is not free of racism, saying she had experienced it from an early age. “It’s pain that no one can understand unless they’ve experienced it. It’s a very sad and tiring thing,” she stated.

Halla Bergþóra Björnsdóttir, newly appointed Police Commissioner of the Reykjavík Capital Area, was also present at the event. “We were here to show solidarity with the issue,” she stated. “I think it’s very important that we all be equal before the law, and it was very important to come here and hear what they had to say.”

Westfjords residents also show solidarity

A solidarity meeting was also held in Ísafjörður, the largest town in the Westfjords, RÚV reports. Around 100 people gathered in the town centre, where, like in Reykjavík, the meeting began with a moment of silence.

Black Lives Matter Gathering Held in Reykjavík Tomorrow

Asylum seeker protest Reykjavík

A gathering will be held in Reykjavík’s Austurvöllur square at 4.30pm tomorrow in solidarity with African Americans in the United States. The gathering will feature speakers and a moment of silence for George Floyd, killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25 while in police custody. Floyd’s death sparked a wave of protests across the United States calling for an end to institutionalised police violence against Black people.

“In solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters in the United States of America, we will be gathering at Austurvöllur to stand in defiance against the system of White supremacy that continues to murder Black people,” the Facebook event for the Reykjavík protest reads. Though there is an American Embassy in Reykjavík, protest organisers have purposely chosen to protest in front of Iceland’s Parliament building. “The significance of holding it at Austurvöllur is that Iceland cannot remain silent,” Asantewa Feaster, one of the protest organisers, stated. “Citizens across the US and the world have shown us where they stand, Iceland must do the same.”

At the time of writing, 1,400 were marked as “attending” the event on Facebook and 1,400 as “interested.” Attendees are encouraged to wear face masks “as a form of protest” and to practice social distancing where possible. Due to COVID-19, a ban on gatherings over 200 people is currently in effect in Iceland. If the number of attendees goes over 200, event organisers encourage those present to “cross the street to lower the number of people in the area. You will be showing support while keeping the safety of yourself and others in mind.”

Anti-Corruption Protest on Austurvöllur Square Tomorrow

In the wake of the Samherji scandal, the Constitutional Society; Efling Trade-Union; the Icelandic Disability Alliance; the Women’s Association for a New Constitution; Gagnsæi, the Anti-Corruption Association; along with private citizens and guilds will be holding an anti-corruption protest on Austurvöllur square tomorrow. The protest will begin at 14:00.

Approximately 1,200 people have expressed interest in the protest on its Facebook page. Over 700 people intend on attending. The text on the page reads as follows:

“Citizens must take matters into their own hands! It’s up to us to decide whether we live in a democracy or a plutocracy.

Namibian citizens are robbed by a major Icelandic fishing company. Icelandic citizens are robbed by a major Icelandic fishing company, which has no qualms about bribery.

This theft occurs under the aegis of a dated Constitution, under an economy that places too much power in the hands of the wealthy, and under a political class that is too submissive to small and powerful fishing companies.”

Organisers demand that that Minister of Fisheries, Kristján Þór Júlíusson, resign; that Parliament legally adopt a new constitution, which was approved by referendum in 2012 (wherein natural resources are declared “national property”;  and that the profits from natural resources be pooled into a public fund dedicated to societal development and to ensure a decent standard of living for all.”

Katrín Oddsdóttir will preside over the protest. Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir (Chair of Efling Trade-Union), journalist Atli Þór Fanndal, and lawyer Þórður Már Jónsson will also be speaking. The band Hatari is slated to perform.

Asylum Seekers Spent the Night in Parliament Square

Asylum seekers protest Reykjavík

Asylum seekers continue to protest in Austurvöllur square outside the Icelandic parliament, Stundin reports. Several spent the night in the square on Tuesday, doing their best to stay warm in sleeping bags. The protesters have now raised a large tent for shelter from the snow and rain.

The night was frosty, according to Milad, a refugee from Iran. “It was freezing cold, but we could do it because we had made a decision. We will be here until our demands are met. We will not leave here until we’ve achieved something. We are serious.”

Asylum seekers and their supporters have been protesting for weeks, calling for an end to deportations, as well as due process on all applications and equal access to healthcare. The group is calling for talks with the government in the presence of the state mediator, in a similar fashion to wage negotiations.

Protest organisers met with representatives of the Prime Minister’s Office yesterday at a meeting hosted by the Icelandic Red Cross. Elínborg Harpa Önundardóttir, an activist and member of No Borders Iceland, called the meeting “a spectacle, more or less,” where activists were told it “just wasn’t possible” to acquiesce to any of their demands.

Challenge the City to Stop Construction in Ancient Cemetery

It’s almost unheard of that the earthly remains of people in hallowed ground are made to give way for a secular building, state three honorary citizens of Reykjavík, who yesterday presented the mayor and chairman of the city council with a challenge to stop the construction of a hotel in the city centre, RÚV reports. The hotel in question is to be built partially over an old cemetery.

Construction has started on tearing down the Landssími building by Austurvöllur square, which is to be replaced by a hotel. The construction has been controversial, not least because the new hotel is to have a cellar, part of which will be built over the ancient Vík cemetery. The cemetery is where the people of Reykjavík were buried for the most part of the last millennium, probably from the 11th century until the 19th.

A challenge to stop the construction was delivered to mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson and city council chairman Þórdís Lóa Þórhallsdóttir today, by honorary citizens of Reykjavík Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, former president of Iceland, Þorgerður Ingólfsdóttir, musician, and Friðrik Ólafsson, chess grandmaster and former office manager of the parliament.

Friðrik read the challenge and reminded everyone present that the earthly remains of those buried in the cemetery had been removed two years ago. “It’s almost unheard of that the earthly remains of people in hallowed ground are made to give way to a secular building. This is blatant disrespect for our history and the memory of our forefathers.”

Buildings in ancient cemeteries are not in compliance with laws about cemeteries.

“We challenge the city of Reykjavík and the builders of the hotel to drop the intended construction that will predictably cause irreparable damage to this fragile and historic place in the heart of the capital,” said Friðrik.

Dagur told Vísir that he”understood their concerns over construction in a key location in the heart of the city. We had the issue looked over carefully. The cemetery hasn’t been used since 1837 and that’s something that the city considered when making its decisions. We will go over the challenge and present it to the city council.” Þórdís Lóa claimed to be happy that citizens care about the city’s issues. but that the construction was so far along that it would be difficult to stop.