From Iceland — Insulting Foreign Leaders Will Remain Illegal In Iceland For Time Being

Insulting Foreign Leaders Will Remain Illegal In Iceland For Time Being

Published April 9, 2018

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Natsha Nandabhiwat

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is against dropping Article 95 of the General Penal Code, which prohibits Icelanders from insulting foreign leaders, despite a bill from the Left-Greens which is calling for exactly that.

The article in question is fairly wide-reaching, with fines or imprisonment for two to six years for anyone who “disgraces a foreign nation or a foreign State, its superior official, Head of State, flag or other recognized symbol of nationality, the flag of the United Nations or the flag of the Council of Europe”, as well as “anyone who officially disgraces or otherwise utters abusive language, other insults in word or in deed, or defamatory imputations to other employees of a foreign State who are present in this Country” or “who threatens or applies force against a diplomat of a foreign State in this Country or breaks into or causes damage in a diplomatic area or threatens such an act”.

A bill submitted by the Left-Greens calls for this article to be dropped from the General Penal Code on the grounds that it is antiquated and contradicting the universal right to freedom of expression.

However, Sturla Sigurjónsson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told RÚV that this article is necessary, as it pertains to Iceland’s obligations as a part of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. If Article 95 is dropped, the Ministry believes, the protections afforded to foreign embassies in Iceland would be greatly damaged, and that Icelandic consuls abroad would be subjected to the same legislative changes in the countries hosting them, thereby reducing their protections as well.

The Left-Greens submitted this bill three years ago, although they were an opposition party at that time. Now that they lead the government, how the Prime Minister’s office will respond to the Foreign Ministry remains to be seen.

Iceland has enforced this article in the past. On both occasions, it was to prosecute Icelanders who mocked the Third Reich in some capacity. In 1934, Þórbergur Þórðarson was charged under the law for an article he wrote about Germany at the time, wherein he called Adolf Hitler “the sadist in the German chancellor’s seat.” Further, Icelandic poet Steinn Steinarr was charged under the same law, when he and a group of others who torn down a Nazi flag flown by the German consulate in Siglufjörður.

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