The Westman Islands’ police chief has called upon all responders and festival staff to remain silent to the media on any reported sexual assaults at this weekend’s Merchants’ Holiday festival. The Journalists’ Union criticised the order as “an attempt to silence”.
Vísir was first to report on the matter, after obtaining a copy of the letter Westman Islands Police Chief Páley Borgþórsdóttir sent to related parties on the matter. First responders, festival staff, paramedics, and anyone else who has responded to a report of sexual assault are told to “not tell [the media] whether a sexual assault has occurred or not. The best answer, as far as you are concerned, is ‘We do not have the authority to provide that information’.”
Celebrating the Merchants’ Holiday festival at the Westman Islands is a modern tradition in Iceland, but not one without its problems. Sexual assaults have been a recurring problem, and festival organisers have at times tried to downplay this, in at least one case by denying rape crisis workers access to set up a booth at the festival.
Páley defended the letter’s order, saying that the motivation behind it was to protect survivors of sexual assault in the sense that it “protects them from these discussions [in the media] just as they are trying to get back on their feet after being assaulted.”
She added that media outlets and the general public can have access to police records of crimes such as sexual assaults 72 hours after those crimes are reported – which is long after the festival comes to an end.
Kjarninn reports that the Journalists’ Union of Iceland has harshly criticised the order.
“This attempt at silencing that is put forward is completely out of touch with the central point of view that an informed and open discussion in a democratic society must be supported,” the statement reads in part. “We encourage all police officers and other responders to report on assaults, sexual assaults or otherwise which are known to happen at this festival, openly, and with the public good in mind.”