Two more bands have joined five others who have pledged to not play at the Merchants’ Weekend festival in the Westman Islands, and the mayor of the islands’ town met with the musicians who have called for a change in policy in how authorities handle sexual assaults at the festival.
RÚV reports that Elliði Vignisson, the mayor of the Westman Islands, met with Retro Stefson frontman Unnsteinn Manúel Stefánsson in the wake of yesterday’s announcement that his band and four others have pledged not to attend the Merchants’ Weekend festival unless authorities change their policies regarding sexual assault at the event. As reported, Westman Islands police chief Páley Borgþórsdóttir recently issued 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.
Two other acts – Dikta and rapper GKR – have also said they were dropping out of the festival unless a change is made.
Elliði told reporters that Páley was also in attendance at this meeting. He said that municipal authorities have no direct involvement with the festival, and that whatever objections the bands have are between them and the festival committee. He emphasised that he, just like the musicians, wants to prevent sexual assaults from happening at the festival.
“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 from the bands sent out yesterday 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 2015, there were five reported sexual assaults at the festival.