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News :: International
News From Iceland
09 Jun 2010
Mirroring France’s Tarnac 9, nine people have been charged in Reykjavík for ‘attacking parliament’ in December 2008, when they entered public benches, unarmed and without any violent intent or effort, to shout at congressmen: ‘Get the fxxx out! This building does not serve its purpose any more!’ Which was, in all respects, true. 40 days later public protest outed the government.
As they are now tried in court for this violation of section 100 of the penal code, 600 people who participated in the January 2009 protest have signed a petition demonstrating their support by demanding that if the trial is not cancelled, they will be charged for the same offense, since that demonstration was only a more effective attempt to ‘attack parliament’ if that interpretation of events holds.

Minor absurdities abound around this case. Ten people were originally called in as suspects, although all in all 30 people participated. The tenth man, not charged, has expressed his discontent with being left out in the media. That was 2 weeks ago. He was subsequently charged for breaking I don’t know which section of the penal code when carrying a sign with an anti-war slogan outside the US embassy in October 2009. The police ordered him and the two other demonstrators present to leave the pavement which he refused, showing on a map that the pavement was a public space, outside the embassy’s landmarks. No physical struggle, merely this exchange.

That remains a minor absurdity as the penalty at stake is not as high as in the case of the nine: if found guilty for breaking section 100, by ‘attacking parliament’, they face a minimum of 1 year in prison, with a maximum life sentence (de facto 16 years).

Section 100 has been employed once before: when thousands peacefully protested against Iceland signing the NATO treaty in 1949, which led to a 60 year US military presence in the country. Parliament was filled with members of a right wing youth organization on that day, who were given clubs to support the police in dispelling the people from the public square. Severe beatings and teargas applied to the ‘communist mob’ did not lead to any casualties, though. 6 lefties were subsequently found guilty for ‘attacking parliament’ with a verdict in 1952, but the whole case was nilled in 1957, as the bereavement of the right to vote involved at the time, was a very clear violation of human rights.

The current trial, in which witness hearings have not yet started, is historical. The 1949 demonstration was against US occupation, shortly after the birth of the republic. The 2008 demonstration followed not only the republic’s de facto moral and economic bankruptcy, but also took place two years after the last remains of the US military left Iceland. Public protest on this scale did not take place during the sixty years in between.

The country is currently led by a coalition government of the Left-Green and Social Democrat parties. Under strict IMF surveillance of ‘fiscal consolidation’ and severe cuts in health, education and welfare – where for the first time in anyone’s memory thousands of people are already
dependent on charity food donations – this case has, for many, become the criteria of whether the government has any will and power to combat the right wing regime which remains in the country’s bureaucracy, whose unofficial policies seem coherent with the international institutions involved in ‘solving’ the economic crisis.

International attention is needed for the sake of those nine people charged, for the sake of freedom of expression in Iceland, for the sake of solidarity amongst people and for the sake of combating an obvious tendency of Western regimes towards political repression, in the face of crisis.

This work is in the public domain.
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