Ragnheiður Freyja Kristínardóttir and Jórunn Edda Helgadóttir, two Icelanders who attempted to stop the deportation of a refugee on board an Icelandair plane in May 2016, were arraigned in Reykjavík District Court yesterday.
The arraignment was a brief affair. Prosecution, representing the state, read their version of the events and the charges against them, which included jeopardising the safety of a flight. They pled not guilty to the charges and objected to the version of events outlined by the state. A new hearing, in which the defence will submit their plea and their side of events, will be held on November 20, with the actual trial itself not likely to start until after the new year.
“Generally, there is some misrepresentation on how events happened as well as our intent,” Ragnheiður told Grapevine. “As soon as all the passengers were inside, we started talking and announced what was going on, informing passengers that there was a person being involuntarily removed from the country and being deported to Sweden, from where he would be deported to his home country, where his safety and life are in danger.”
The charge of jeopardising the safety of a flight is curious, given how events transpired. At the time Ragnheiður and Jórunn stood up in their seats on the plane to let passengers know about the deportation, the plane was still sitting next to the terminal, with both its doors still open.
“That’s one of the things that’s incorrect in the outline of the charges against us; that the plane was ‘ready to take off’,” Jórunn told us. “The doors were still open and the plane wasn’t even on the runway.”
The two also do not feel that the passengers felt threatened by them.
“We doubt that the passengers on the plane felt their safety was being endangered,” Ragnheiður said. “The passengers sitting next to us spoke to me, asked me what was going on. People seemed surprised.”
“If they felt some insecurity it was probably regarding the safety of the passenger that we were trying to protect, and whose safety we know was in jeopardy,” Jórunn added. “His safety was jeopardised by the actions of the police and by the Directorate of Immigration.”
An important caveat in this is that Icelandair crew are notified when someone is going to be deported on a particular flight. This raises its own concerns.
“There are people amongst the crew who don’t want to participate in deportations, and we believe that to be the case with passengers as well,” Ragnheiður told us. “There’s a lot of people who disagree with the inhumane treatment of refugees in Iceland and the deportations that are carried out.”
Also of note is the day on which the police handed Ragnheiður and Jórunn their indictment: October 19. This was also the same day that prosecutors in Sweden announced that student Elin Ersson, who attempted to block the deportation of an Afghan refugee last July, would be charged. “We hadn’t heard a word from the police since the day this happened, two and a half years ago, but on the same day she got her indictment, we got ours,” Jórunn observed.
At its core, Ragnheiður and Jórunn consider this is a human rights issue more than anything else.
“We do think that it’s definitely relevant that there was this unlawful, irreversible action that the police executed on behalf of the Directorate of Immigration,” Jórunn told Grapevine. “Our actions were very minimal in comparison to the possible effect that the actions of the authorities could have on the life of the refugee in question.”