Solidarity Tent Comes Down, Peaceful Protest Continues

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

Palestinians and their allies who have been stationed at a tent in front of Parliament since December 27th took that tent down yesterday, they said on Facebook. Despite this, they have vowed to continue to protest peacefully in front of Parliament until such time as their demands are met.

As reported, the presence of these tents drew the ire of Minister of Foreign Affairs Bjarni Benediktsson, who wrote a lengthy Facebook post crticising the protest, while also calling for increased police powers and tighter restrictions on asylum seekers.

This statement drew a large protest of its own last Monday, and the refugee and asylum seeker assistance NGO Solaris criticised the Foreign Minister for “us[ing] his public influence to spread misinformation about community members at their most vulnerable moment.”

Extension not granted

The protesters had a permit to camp where they put their tent, and Reykjavík mayor Einar Þorsteinsson pointed this out as well as their legal right to protest. However, their permit expired yesterday, and although they applied for an extension, this was not granted.

“As our families and friends are being massacred in Gaza, it is clear that the pressure from Icelandic politicians, who have employed extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric, has managed to make Reykjavík city back out of supporting our protest,” the protesters’ statement reads in part. “Although it saddens us that city officials are unable to find the courage to continue to support our fight amid a genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, we want to honour our commitment to a peaceful and respectful protest. Thus we are taking down the tent today, as we have been asked to do.”

Seek a meeting with ministers

The protesters’ demands have included the implementation of family re-unification, a government policy wherein those with international protection in Iceland may also have that protection extended to family members. However, many of these family members are currently unable to get out of Gaza without assistance. Despite the policy of family re-unification, Minister of Justice Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir has contended the government is not obliged to help.

In addition, the protesters have implored the state to stop deporting Palestinian asylum seekers, and have called for a meeting with relevant government ministers.

“Our protest camp has been entirely peaceful and in line with all legal guidelines and permissions,” their statement says. “Police and city officials have described our protest as exemplary and without trouble. During this time the community has grown and we have felt immense support and solidarity in our camp. At the same time, ministers of foreign affairs and justice have both ignored our meeting request, despite having the authority to address our demands if they only wanted. Instead, they have publicly dehumanized us, disparaged the protest and conveyed on television interviews and through social media that our presence is unwelcome in Iceland.”

The protest will continue

The protesters have taken down the tent as asked, but they added that this does not mean the protests are over.

“As we take down this tent, our dedication to protect lives in Palestine stands strong,” they state. “If the city will not allow us to have a tent over our heads while we give everything we have to get our families out of Gaza and prevent further deportations of Palestinians, we will stay here without a tent. Our shared responsibility does not end at this tent; it extends to the ongoing pursuit of justice, peace, human dignity and the protection of vulnerable lives in Palestine. We feel that we have no choice but to continue.”

Foreign Minister Calls for Border Control, Increased Police Powers

Palestinian protesters outside Iceland's Parliament

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.

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.

Palestinian flags outside Alþingi

“It’s a disaster to see the camp at Austurvöllur,” Bjarni wrote. “It’s absolutely unacceptable that the city of Reykjavík has allowed the camp on this holy site between the statue of Jón Sigurðsson and Alþingi. Yesterday, Reykjavík made things worse by extending the license.”

He went on to write that this “sad camp” had nothing to do with the traditional protests that take place in front of the statue of Iceland’s 19the century independence movement leader and the nation’s Parliament. “The group flies multiple Palestine flags and attaches them to lampposts and tents,” Bjarni wrote. “No one should be allowed to fly any national flag for weeks outside of Iceland’s Alþingi to protest Icelandic authorities.”

Calls for increased police powers

Bjarni went on to write that he understood the concerns and uncertainties of those in Iceland away from their families, many of whom live under terrifying conditions. “However, we must remember that the protesters are in a country that receives many more asylum applications than neighbouring countries,” he wrote and added that Iceland had received more Palestinian people than any other Nordic state.

“The next thing that needs to happen is to tighten regulations about asylum seekers and harmonise them with what our neighbouring countries have in place,” he added. “We need to increase border control. The current arrangement has gone out of control, both with regards to costs and the number of applications.”

Lastly, he wrote that Alþingi had failed by rejecting the Minister of Justice’s proposals on this issue and that the police should be given additional authority to fight international criminal activities.

Most asylum seekers from Ukraine and Venezuela

223 Palestinians applied for asylum last year, Heimildin reports, but total applications were down from the record year of 2022. Nearly 80% of applicants in 2022 and 2023 came from either Ukraine or Venezuela. The current government coalition introduced measures that led to the increase in applications from these countries. Between 2018 and 2021, almost every applicant from Venezuela received international protection, as the government ruled that the situation in Venezuela was too dangerous. Asylum seekers from Ukraine have received international protection since the beginning of the war in Ukraine.

Sjón Withdraws from Literary Festival Due to PM’s Participation

Katrín Jakobs Svandís Svavars Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörns press conference

The Icelandic writer Sjón has announced his withdrawal from this year’s Iceland Noir Festival owing to the participation of Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir. Writing on Twitter yesterday, Sjón cited “the cruel treatment of asylum seekers” by Katrín’s cabinet.

The darkest time of the year

Iceland Noir is a literary festival held in Reykjavík celebrating “darkness in all its forms.” Founded in 2013 by authors Ragnar Jónasson and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Iceland Noir began as a celebration of crime fiction but has gradually evolved to welcome writers outside the genre while also including television and film screenings alongside panels.

This year’s festival will be held between November 16 and 19 and will be headlined by Bernardine Evaristo and Richard Osman alongside Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir. Other notable guests include First Lady of Iceland Eliza Reid, English novelist Mark Billingham – and Icelandic writer Sjón.

Yesterday, however, Sjón announced that he was withdrawing from the festival due to the participation of PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir:

Controversial expulsion of asylum seekers

Sjón’s announcement follows on the heels of fifteen asylum seekers being deported from Iceland. Among those deported was a disabled Iraqi, in Iceland with a family of five, whose lawyer has told the media that he is preparing a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights.

The treatment of the man inspired public outcry and a protest was held on Austurvöllur Square, in front of Parliament, at 5.15 PM yesterday. The protest was organised by No Borders Iceland and Solaris (an aid organisation providing assistance to asylum seekers and refugees in Iceland) and was “well attended” according to Vísir.

Katrín Jakobsdóttir spoke to Vísir in response to the public outcry yesterday, maintaining that it was “only natural for people to become upset” whenever force was applied in cases such as these:

“But what we must look into, in particular – and I think that I speak for everyone – is the treatment of the disabled person, who was among those asylum seekers who were deported. It’s extremely important that we take great pains when it comes to vulnerable groups of people and that we ensure that his rights were fully respected.”

Isavia, Iceland’s national airport and air navigation service provider, apologised for hindering the work of photojournalists during the deportations at Keflavík Airport.

‘Out with Bjarni’: Íslandsbanki Protesters Continue Calls for Minister of Finance’s Resignation

Bjarni Benediktsson icelandic politics

Protesters gathered in Austurvöllur Square in front of parliament once more on Saturday to voice their anger at the government’s recent sale of shares in Íslandsbanki bank. Hundreds of protesters gathered last week; the exact attendance numbers of Saturday’s event were not available at time of writing. However, Vísir reports that 2,000 people marked themselves as attending on the protest on Facebook, an event entitled “Bjarna Burt, Spillinguna Burt,” or “Out with Bjarni [Benediktsson, Minister of Finance], Out with Corruption.”

The protest was a festive one, and kicked off with a performance by Páll Óskar, and included speeches by former and current MPs, a reading by the “poet of the protest,” Anton Helgi Jónsson, and performances by hip hop acts XXX Rottweiler and Blaffi. Hot chocolate and doughnuts were served before and after the rally itself.

See Also: Hundreds Protest Sale of Íslandsbanki Shares

Íslandsbanki was fully owned by the government until last year, when it sold a 35% stake in the bank, something that had been on the government agenda for years. While that first offering was open to the public, last month’s offering was solely open to professional investors. The second sale was successful, reducing the government’s stake in the bank from 65% to 42.5%. The government has been criticised for the latter share offering’s lack of transparency, and for the 5% discount buyers received on the shares’ market value. The majority of the investors who purchased shares sold their stakes almost immediately for considerable profit.

Days after the first protest at Austurvöllur, the Icelandic government announced that it would be introducing a parliamentary bill to abolish Icelandic State Financial Investments (ISFI), the government’s holding company on the financial market. But protesters are not yet satisfied.

See Also: Government to Dismantle State Investment Company

The protesters have three demands: that the sale be rescinded, that Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson resign, and that the board and CEO of the ISFI step down. Now that the latter demand has been achieved with the dismantling of ISFI all together, protesters remain focused on their first two goals.

‘Out with the puppets of capitalism in the government’

Davíð Þór Jónsson speaks at Saturday’s ‘Out with Bjarni!’ rally. Screenshot via Vísir.

“We’re going to learn from this,” said headlining speaker Davíð Þór Jónsson, a pastor and actor who has been an outspoken leader in the Íslandsbanki protests. “We’ll learn to never, never, never again trust these people with a single thing. We’ll learn to never, never, never again trust political parties that form a government that would allow this to happen.” His remarks were met with cheers from the crowd.

“Our demands are unambiguous and reasonable,” Davíð Þór continued. “Out with the psychopaths [amoral people] in our financial system! Out with the puppets of capitalism in the government! Out with an ineffectual, cowardly Alþingi that doesn’t have the guts to affirm its lack of confidence in an unfit government that doesn’t just permit, but rather gives its blessing to the psychopaths plundering their own country!”

Hundreds Protest Sale of Íslandsbanki Shares

Several hundred people gathered in Austurvöllur square on Friday to protest the government’s recent sale of shares in Íslandsbanki bank, and the way the sales were handled. Pirate Party MP Halldóra Mogensen was among the speakers at the protests and called on Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson to resign. RÚV reported first.

The protest was co-organized by ASÍ-UNG, the youth branch of the Icelandic Confederation of Labour, which works to ensure that the interest of young people remain priorities on the trade union association’s agenda. They were joined by activist group Jæja, the Young Pirates, the Young Social Democrats, and the Young Socialists.

See Also: Many Íslandsbanki Buyers Have Already Sold for Profit

Íslandsbanki was fully owned by the government until last year, when it sold a 35% stake in the bank, something that had been on the government agenda for years. While that first offering was open to the public, last month’s offering was solely open to professional investors. The second sale was successful, reducing the government’s stake in the bank from 65% to 42.5%. The government has been criticised for the latter share offering’s lack of transparency, and for the 5% discount buyers received on the shares’ market value.

Of the 207 investors who purchased shares in Íslandsbanki bank in a private share offering last month, 132 have already sold some or all of their stake in the formerly state-owned bank, Kjarninn reports. The sellers have made a cumulative profit of ISK 1.6-2.1 billion [$12.3-16.2 million; €11.4-15 million]. Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson had previously stated that the aim of the share offering was to acquire long-term investors in the bank.

Screenshot, Vísir

See Also: Central Bank of Iceland Investigating Íslandsbanki Sale

The Central Bank of Iceland confirmed to Stundin that it has opened an investigation into the government’s March 22 sale of a 22.5% stake in Íslandsbanki bank. However, what specific matters about the sale are under investigation is not clear.

‘Out with the oligarchs, out with corruption’

Vísir reports that Professor Þorvaldur Gylfason, chair of the VR trade union Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson, People’s Party MP Ásta Lóa Þórsdóttir, and Socialist MP Gunnar Smári Egilsson were also speakers at the protest.

“We’re protesting the sale of Íslandsbanki and how it was handled. Who was allowed to buy shares,” said Gunnar Smári.

“We are protesting a corrupt government that is incompetent and tiresome,” said Atli Gíslason, chair of the Young Socialists. His colleague Kristbjörg Eva Andersen Ramos added:

“Out with the oligarchs, out with corruption. We want a just society.”

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.