‘Of course they are lying’: Deputy Director of Public Prosecution Under Fire for Comments about LGBTQIA+ Asylum Seekers

Deputy Director of Public Prosecution Helgi Magnús Gunnarsson has come under fire for comments he made on his Facebook page concerning asylum seekers who apply for international protection in Iceland on the basis of their sexuality. Vísir reports that the comments were made in the wake of an interview with lawyer Helgi Þorsteinsson Silva, who said he believed the incident reflected consistent governmental bias, namely that the government routinely assumed that asylum seekers were lying about their sexuality in their applications.

‘Is there any shortage of gays in Iceland?’

In the interview, lawyer Helgi Þorsteinsson Silva revealed that the government accused his client of lying about his sexuality and had refused him asylum on that basis. Helgi asserted that the accusation was indicative of a pattern of unfounded accusations and asylum application rejections and indeed, the district court later reversed the government’s decision in his client’s favour. The interview, which was published by Vísir on Thursday, was shared on Facebook by Deputy Director of Public Prosecution Helgi Magnús.

“Of course they are lying,” wrote Helgi Magnús in a now-removed post on his Facebook page. “Most people come here in search of more money and a better life. Who wouldn’t lie to save themselves? Apart from that, is there any shortage of gays in Iceland?”

Screenshot of Helgi Magnus Gunnarsson’s Facebook post

It bears noting that this is not the first time Helgi Magnús has come under fire for inflammatory public statements. In 2019, he was investigated in Stundin after expressing anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment, both online and in a speech given at an international conference on human rights and migration in Berlin. In 2021, he was criticized for liking Facebook posts that call into question the testimony of women who say they’ve been the victim of domestic abuse.

Confirmation of systemic prejudice

Álfur Birkir Bjarnarson, chairman of Samtökin ’78, was quick to respond, emphasizing that Helgi Magnús’ comments were indicative of systemic prejudice against LGBTQIA+ people in Iceland’s judicial system.

“I don’t know that there’s a shortage or excess of redheads, gays, men, or women,” he wrote. “These are just people, and we take them into society as they come.”

Álfur Birkir continued by saying that the Deputy Director’s comments say more about him than asylum seekers, as well as underlining some painful realities about the justice system in general. “This is just confirmation of what we’ve experienced first-hand—that there is most assuredly prejudice within the system and [that] systemic prejudice against LGBTQIA+ people, immigrants, and other minority groups is quite evident within the system. This is yet one more confirmation for those of us who have experienced this and are moved to examine it.”

‘Really likes gay people’

In a follow-up interview after his initial post, Helgi Magnús repeated his position, saying that it was neither abnormal for people to lie about their sexuality in asylum applications, nor for the government to investigate their claims. He said he was not commenting on a specific case, but more generally. He also questioned whether a person’s sexuality should be a factor in their receiving asylum over someone else.

Asked to speak to his comments about there being “no shortage of gays in Iceland,” Helgi said he really liked gay people and had never had anything against them. (At time of writing, Helgi Magnús had added a ‘Pride 2022’ frame on his Facebook profile photo.) He said he didn’t want to comment further on the matter because there was no reason to. The fact that his comments had aroused significant comment and coverage in the media was simply a result of a series of slow news days in Iceland, he said, and could hardly be considered real news.

Álfur Birkir was circumspect about Helgi Magnús’ response, saying that it was all well and good to hear that the Deputy Director had nothing against gay people but that it was time to see that in action.

“It’s good to hear,” he remarked, “I only wish him well with that, but it would be good to see that in action, then. As an arm of the system, he has a great responsibility—not only to show ‘ahostility,’ but also literal affection as part of the system.”

Proving sexuality ‘something that heterosexual people would never have to do’

Left-Green PM Jódís Skúladóttir has since spoken out on the matter, not only against Helgi Magnús’ comments, but also against the injustice of making asylum seekers prove their sexuality.

 “These are extremely depressing comments that in reality, completely condemn themselves,” said Jódís. “It is, of course, a serious matter that people in positions of power, all the way from the bottom to the top in our system, give themselves permission to speak this way. I take this very seriously.”

“How unfortunately worded, that there’s no need for more gay people here,” she continued. “I don’t think we need any more white, heterosexual, middle-age men in management positions.”

In the interview that incited all this commentary, lawyer Helgi Þorsteinsson Silva also noted that LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers often have to go to great lengths to prove their sexuality, which is frequently called into question even if they are in a relationship or married.

Jódís spoke to this as well, saying, “It’s obviously crazy that people have to—at any time, for any reason—prove their sexuality, which is, of course, something that heterosexual people would never have to do.”

“I want to point out that here, in our society, which is considered progressive and tolerant in many respects, there are a lot of people who are reluctant to be open about their sexuality,” Jódís continued. “People are ostracized, rejected, subjected to violence—and that’s in this good, open society. Just imagine being a refugee, from a country where a death sentence might even await you. [Imagine] being in mortal danger if you are open about your sexuality. It’s obvious that you’re not going to advertise it on social media, that you haven’t publicly admitted it.”

Three-Party Coalition to Continue

Bjarni, Katrín, Sigurður Ingi coalition

Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Chairperson of the Left-Green Party and current Prime Minister, met with President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson on Friday morning to advise him that the current three-party coalition plans to continue its cooperation for another term, RÚV reports.

The coalition, which was formed after much negotiation in 2017, is composed of the Left-Greens, the Independence Party, and the Progressive Party. The coalition signalled that it was considering continued collaboration after they maintained their parliamentary majority in September’s election. Katrín, Progressive Party Chairperson Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, and Independence Party Chairperson Bjarni Benediktsson have, however, been tight-lipped so far as to the content of their discussions.

See Also: Governing Coalition in Talks for Continued Collaboration

After advising the President of their plans for continued collaboration, the three party leaders met to continue their discussions.

City Council Squabble Sets Tongues Wagging

Tensions and political in-fighting flared on Friday after an episode that Vísir reports has left some city councillors criticizing as “possibly the most misguided and embarrassing disturbance” that they’d seen in the course of their political careers, and others dismissing as “just nonsense.” The incident in question? Left Green councilwoman Líf Magneudóttir stuck her tongue out at Independence Party councilwoman Marta Guðjónsdóttir during a meeting of the Reykjavík City Planning Board.

Líf stuck her tongue out at her fellow councilwoman because she felt that Marta had been staring at her aggressively during the meeting. Líf stated on Facebook that the gesture was intended to relieve the tension of an increasingly discomfiting meeting.

“What are you to do when someone is staring at you for a long time with great condescension and disapproval in a high-pressure and inhibiting situation after you’ve stated your case objectively and fairly but receive an unobjective reaction in return? Yep, you try to make a joke of it all and lighten the mood and extricate yourself from all the competitiveness by just sticking out your tongue at those concerned, waggling your brows and smiling.”

She later apologized to Marta during a break in the session, but Marta felt that the apology was disingenuous and only offered because Líf knew she intended to put the incident on record. Marta later demanded that Líf make her a formal and public apology. She said that rudeness and tactlessness has been tolerated in City Hall for too long and that the way in which councillors treat one another has an effect on how important city issues get resolved. “The atmosphere has become quite toxic […],” she said, saying that by putting the incident on record, she wanted to “draw attention to this issue so that people [Líf and her fellow council members in the majority] start to think about why they were elected and start working on the projects that we should be working on.”

Following the incident, Líf was invited to appear with Marta on live television to discuss the state of relations between council members from different parties. She chose not to appear, but sent a statement to the station, which read:

“I saw at the meeting that Marta Guðjónsdóttir misunderstood me and took my antics badly. I discussed the matter with her in as friendly a manner possible and thought that with that, [the matter] was closed. Marta, however, would rather score political points by making this a newsworthy issue. That’s her choice.”

“In my opinion,” the statement continued, “this is a minor issue, and it ended with a sincere apology on my part that Marta chose not to accept. I find it sad that we’re letting this overshadow bigger and more important issues that the city council is working on […]” She also pointed out that closed city council meetings often become heated, with council members using profanity, speaking down to their colleagues, and employing “threatening and oppressive behaviour.” As such, Líf said, she thinks that her colleagues in the Independence and Centre parties should “answer why [they] chose to behave in such an unobjective manner as we’ve been witness to, in, for instance, the media.”

Líf continued that members of the opposition parties should “look closer to home if they want to improve the relationship and workplace morale in City Hall; Marta Guðjónsdóttir’s reaction in this situation doesn’t honestly show much of a will to work objectively in the best interest of city residents. I myself have nothing in mind but to do my job with the same cordiality and conscientiousness as I’ve done up until now.”