Benedikt Sveinsson, the father of Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, provided a recommendation letter of “restored honour” for Hjalti Sigurjón Hauksson, a man convicted of having raped his stepdaughter almost daily for 12 years. This information was kept hidden from the general public, despite repeated requests from the media, until a parliamentary committee ruled that the Ministry of Justice was legally obliged to disclose this information. The Prime Minister was aware of his father’s actions since at least last July, but said nothing.
Stundin reports that Hjalti was convicted of rape in 2004, but last August was granted “restored honour”, a legal procedure which restores the civil standing of someone who has served a sentence for a serious crime and seeks to gain a position that a criminal conviction would normally prevent them from getting. In order to get restored honour, however, amongst the requirements is a letter of recommendation.
Initially the Ministry of Justice refused to disclose who had recommended Hjalti receive restored honour, but after concerted pressure – including a parliamentary committee ruling that the Ministry had gone beyond the bounds of the law to keep the information secret – the Ministry relented. It was today revealed that Benedikt, who has long been a friend of Hjalti’s and reportedly visited him in prison, had provided a letter of recommendation for Hjalti.
Shortly after the story broke, Benedikt released a statement to the press saying that he had not actually penned the letter himself. Rather, Benedikt contends that Hjalti came to him with the letter already written and asked for his signature. Benedikt also said that he saw restored honour as a means for “convicted criminals to integrate with society again”, adding that he believes Hjalti is sorry for his crimes.
Even more damning is the fact that public broadcasting service RÚV now reports that the Minister of Justice, Sigríður Andersen, informed the Prime Minister last July that his father had provided this letter. It bears mentioning that both Bjarni Benediktsson and Sigríður Andersen hail from the Independence Party, which currently leads Iceland’s ruling coalition government.
The survivor of Hjalti’s abuses has said in an interview with Stundin that Hjalti receiving restored honour has been “surreal”, adding that he continues to harass her to this day in the form of messages, phone calls, and other attempts at contact.
The Icelandic public has been in an uproar over the matter, and the opposition parties are gearing up to push back. Pirate Party MP Gunnar Hrafn Jónsson spoke with Grapevine on the matter, saying, “The opposition, and certainly the Pirate Party, will take this matter forward with great urgency. The nation is outraged and demands it.”
Restored honour is a controversial subject in Iceland, and came to the forefront of criticism most recently when Róbert Árni Hreiðarsson, who now goes by Robert Downey, was granted restored honour last August. In 2007, he was sentenced to three years in prison for having sexually abused at least four teenage girls. He sought to have his honour restored so he could practice law again, and this was granted. Since then, pushback against the practice has been considerable.