Five bands have dropped out of the Merchants’ Weekend festival in the Westman Islands, citing the police chief’s silencing of sexual assault reporting.
RÚV reports that Retro Stefson, Úlfur Úlfur, Agent Fresco, Emmsjé Gauti and Sturla Atlas – all of them slated to play at the festival – have issued a joint statement announcing they will no longer be performing unless local officials demonstrate a change in policy. The reason cited is Westman Islands police chief Páley Borgþórsdóttir issuing a request to police, emergency care workers and hospital staff to not talk to the press about any reported sexual assaults until some days after the festival’s conclusion have passed – a request that has been met with considerable criticism.
“We are astonished by the response from authorities in the Westman Islands to the loud demands of society over the past few days,” the statement reads in part. “The national festival in the Westman Islands is great, but sexual assaults should never be silenced.”
As such, the bands have come to the conclusion that they may have no choice but to drop out.
As reported, 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 (this, at least, has since been amended, RÚV reports, as rape crisis prevention centre Stígamót have been invited by the festival committee to attend).
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.