Minister’s Assistant Silent on Purpose of Meeting with Namibian Officials

Brynjar Níelsson, assistant to the Minister of Justice, has refused to disclose the purpose of a meeting he had with Namibian officials at Iceland’s Ministry of Justice last June 7. He has stated that the meeting was not an official meeting and is therefore not subject to the Information Act. Namibian authorities would not confirm to Fréttablaðið that the meeting concerned private affairs.

Namibia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Attorney General, and Deputy Director General of the Namibian Anti-Corruption Commission visited Iceland last June. The purpose of their trip was to meet with investigators of the so-called Fishrot Files scandal, involving the operations of one of Iceland’s largest seafood companies in Namibia. The company, Samherji, allegedly bribed Namibian government officials to gain access to lucrative fishing grounds, while also taking advantage of international loopholes to avoid taxes.

Met with other ministers that day

While in the country last June, Namibian officials met with Brynjar at the Ministry of Justice. Brynjar sat in as Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson’s representative, as the Minister was absent at the time. The Namibian officials had met with Foreign Minister Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir earlier that same day.

Opposition MP Helga Vala Helgadóttir, of the Social-Democratic Alliance, has criticised Brynjar for staying silent on the substance of the meeting. “The Assistant to the Minister of Justice does not meet with the Deputy Prime Minister of Namibia, the Attorney General of Namibia, and the Deputy Director General of the Namibian Anti-Corruption Commission on behalf of the Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson to discuss private matters. No more than the Prime Minister who met with them first or the Foreign Minister,” Helga stated.

“Is Everything Alright?”

is everything alright

Iceland’s Justice Minister, National Police Commissioner, and Emergency Response Service 112 launched a sexual assault prevention campaign today, with the first phase specifically aimed at nightclubs. The campaign asks the public to be on the lookout for violence when taking part in nightlife, ask “Is everything alright?” if they suspect it may not be, and call 112 if necessary. Some locals have criticised the campaign for focusing on bystanders rather than the perpetrators of sexual offences.

Decrease in reported rapes during periods of social restrictions

A press release from the campaign states that reports of rape decreased by 43% in 2020, a statistic authorities relate to the social restrictions that were in place that year, closing bars and nightclubs for some periods and limiting their operational hours during others. According to the Police Commissioner’s Office, a large proportion of reported rapes take place between Friday and Sunday, between the hours of midnight and 6:00 AM. While the police registered 114 cases of rape in 2020, the average number between 2017 and 2019 was 201. Reports increased once more when restrictions were relaxed in 2021. “Changes to restrictions therefore had a clear impact on the frequency of rape,” the press release states.

“I have emphasised that in order to reduce sexual offences, we need to mobilise all of society. We must all be vigilant and our responsibility to eradicate this evil in Icelandic society cannot be ignored,” Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson stated. “Our experience throughout the pandemic shows that rape and other forms of violence are not inevitable. We all want a life without infection prevention restrictions again but we also want a life without violence. To that end, we are raising awareness about sexual assault.”

“Educate perpetrators”

Some locals have criticised the campaign for not placing responsibility on the perpetrators of sexual assault. “Seems at first glance that this is yet another campaign where the responsibility is shifted to everyone other than the perpetrators,” one Icelandic woman tweeted. “This is so ridiculous,” another wrote. “Almost as ridiculous as when the Icelandic Travel Industry Association launched the project ‘Protection against prostitution’. Put the money into something useful. Educate perpetrators. Don’t place the responsibility on victims or bystanders.”

Jón Gunnarsson and his assistant Brynjar Níelsson have previously been criticised for their voting record on women’s issues. MP and Reform Party Chairperson stated last December that she did not trust the two when it came to supporting issues of gender equality.

New Minister of Justice and Assistant ‘Not to be Trusted’ with Women’s Issues, Critics Say

Halldóra Mogensen, MP for the Pirate Party, and Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir, Chairperson of the Reform Party, have expressed strong misgivings about the way in which incoming Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarssson and his newly appointed assistant, Independence Party MP Brynjar Níelsson, will handle issues related to the rights of women, RÚV reports. Jón has said that he will focus on reviewing the status and treatment of sexual offenses in Iceland, but both Jón and Brynjar’s voting record has been called into question, with Þorgerður Katrín saying that when it comes to “women’s liberation issues,” she does not trust either man’s politics.

Halldóra and Þorgerður Katrín’s critique cited Jón and Brynjar’s vote on a specific bill from 2019. The bill in question extended the window within which pregnant individuals are allowed to obtain an abortion for any reason to 22 weeks. Previously, abortions were only allowed after 16 weeks under specific circumstances. The abortion bill was presented by former Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir and passed in 2019 by a margin of 40 to 18. Both Brynjar and Jón voted against the bill.

“I find this strange,” said Halldóra. “I can’t imagine that the Left-Greens are very enthusiastic about this appointment either. Jón is taking on an enormous and important set of issues and he’s hiring an assistant who has, in the course of his entire parliamentary career, only submitted one parliamentary issue, he’s only submitted a single parliamentary issue, and that was the bill that revolved around imprisoning parents who restrict custody access. It says an incredible amount about a person’s politics I think it’s dangerous to know that these two men are going to work together to take on sexual violence issues and I don’t believe that properly addressing these issues is really in the cards.”

When asked if she trusted Jón and Brynjar on such issues as improving the position of victims of sexual offenses, Þorgerður Katrín responded: “No, not when it comes to these sorts of issues, although I’ve had good collaborations with Jón and Brynjar over the years. I’m fond of these men, I admit, but on the other hand, their politics cannot be overlooked when it comes, for instance, to women’s liberation issues. The abortion bill that Svandís put forward—who was it that did not support that? The Independence Party leadership, Jón Gunnarsson, Brynjar Níelsson. They voted against it.”

Pressure groups and activists have also been vocal in their displeasure at Brynjar’s appointment. For his part, however, Jón stuck by the decision, saying, “I’m not worried about this discussion, it isn’t bothering me. Much of what has been said is not worth responding to and not objective nor balanced. I let such things fall on deaf ears and don’t let them bother me. We’re going to let our actions speak.”