Hospital staff say they will ignore a police order to not talk to the media about any reported rapes at the Merchants’ Weekend festival this year.
Vísir reports that Páley Borgþórsdóttir, the chief of police in the Westman Islands, has once again told police, emergency care workers and festival staff to not answer any questions the media might ask about reported sexual assaults at the festival. Rather, she has requested that they all remain silent on the subject until an unspecified number of days have passed after the festival – just as she had requested last year to considerable criticism.
Páley told reporters that the gag order will relieve pressure on sexual assault survivors and will lead to “better reporting” of what they have endured but emergency room project manager Hrönn Stefánsdóttir told reporters they intend to ignore Páley’s request.
While declining to directly criticise Páley’s policy, Haraldur Johannessen, the National Police Commissioner of Iceland, told RÚV he believes it would be best for police all over the country to exercise the same policies, as opposed to one police unit having a separate policy from the rest of the country.
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.
Kjarninn reported last year that the Journalists’ Union of Iceland 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.”
In all, there were 5 reported sexual assaults at last year’s Merchants’ Weekend festival in the Westman Islands.