December 8 marks the two-year anniversary of an event that was later turned into a textbook example of political persecution. Thirty people tried to enter the public benches of Iceland’s Parliament but were stopped by guards and police. For almost a year now, nine of those thirty—myself included—have been threatened with between one and sixteen years in prison for supposedly “attacking” the parliament.
In between the event itself and the start of the court case, the nine of us—often referred to as the Reykjavík 9—were part of a historical resistance movement that, among other things, achieved toppling a government in January 2009. Forced to recognise the legitimacy of these protests, the heads of the current system also need to make sure that bringing down governments or any acts of that kind does not get normalised. To maintain ruling order, every resistance movement, successful or not, has to be punished. An example has to be set.
This is nothing new. Similar cases are happening everywhere around the planet, and have been throughout history. Only a week ago, two women were sentenced in Denmark for “organising and encouraging sabotage and violence against the police” during the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen in December of last year. Thousands of people took to the streets during the summit and protested against green capitalist solutions, but not a single person has been accused for executing the women’s alleged plans. In the US, one man is facing a prison sentence of up to 21 years for alleged property destruction and concealing his identity during a mass protest against World Bank and the IMF in Washington D.C., April 2009. And soon Greece will see four people—the Thessaloniki 4—showing up in court for their participation in resisting the 2003 EU Summit in Theassaloniki, facing between four and eight years in prison for “distinguished and repeated rebellion”.
Just like the thousands who protested in Copenhagen, Washington, Thessaloniki or anywhere else, the movement that filled the streets of Iceland after the 2008 economic collapse was far from being united. Conflicts rose during that winter’s protests, about political aims and ideologies as well as tactics and strategies. But sharing at least one big common goal made the movement strong enough to leave the internal conflicts behind when needed and focus on getting rid of the right wing government in office at that time. What would come after the government’s collapse was a topic for discussion, or more honestly, another fight on a different battlefield. Some wanted a leftist government while others wanted radical system change or better yet, the dismantling of the system.
From those who were a part of this movement, the case against the Reykjavík 9 should be treated like the right wing government. Where one is located on the axis of minimal to radical—or pacifist to militant—does not alter the simple fact that political persecution is unjust. Entering the building where the state’s most powerful people are located and encouraging them to leave their seats of power can rightly be seen as an act of civil disobedience in a democratic society, as well as a living being’s natural reaction towards an oppressing and dominating, globally totalitarian system. Similarly, a prison sentence over people who dare to resist can be opposed from a variety of perspectives. The fact that we don’t all agree on how to categorise acts like this or court cases like aforementioned ones, does not stop us from uniting in resisting the oppression implied in these cases.
The court procedure will finally happen during three days in January, from the 18th to the 20th. The third day will mark another two year anniversary, this time of a series of protests that started with the destruction of a yellow police line distinguishing those who hold institutional power from those who do not, and did not come to an end until a common goal was accomplished.
By remembering these recent events and getting influenced by them, we are able to achieve amazing things. When it came to it, who had thought toppling a government was as easy as it was?