From Iceland — Protestors Get Mixed Result From Appeals Court; Face Suspended Sentence, Legal Fees

Protestors Get Mixed Result From Appeals Court; Face Suspended Sentence, Legal Fees

Published November 27, 2020

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Andie Sophia Fontaine

Today, the Appellate Court ruled in the case of Ragnheiður Freyja Kristínardóttir and Jórunn Edda Helgadóttir, who in May 2016 engaged in a peaceful protest onboard an Icelandair flight that was still parked on the runway. While the two most serious charges against them were dropped, they did receive a suspended sentence on the other two charges, and face high legal fees.

As reported, Ragnheiður and Jórunn stood up on board a plane set to deport an asylum seeker. The plane was, at the time, standing still on the runway, with boarding not yet complete. As they stood, they began speaking out loud about the fact that a person was being wrongfully deported on that flight. Jórunn was quickly restrained by passengers and flight attendants, and both were arrested.

While charged with endangering the safety of a plane, causing a severe disturbance on public transport, attempting to hinder police work (referring to the police who were escorting the asylum seeker on the flight), and not obeying flight staff, the first of these was dropped in District Court. Today, the Appellate Court upheld dropping the charge of endangering the safety of a plane, and further, dropped the charge of causing a severe disturbance on public transport.

In examining their case, the court specifically noted that the two were acting with the intent of saving someone’s life, and that they had a constitutionally protected right to peacefully protest. However, the court ultimately gave Ragnheiður and Jórunn and suspended sentence of two years—meaning that if they are charged with a crime within the next two years, the court may decide to issue a sentencing for those charges. If they are not, then the charges will be dropped from their criminal records.

Further, the two also face high legal costs, totally over 1 million ISK each.

Ragnheiður told the Grapevine that the legal costs for appealing would not have been a factor had the District Court taken all of their defenses into consideration—any of their defenses regarding the right to protest were not considered by the District Court.

For Ragnheiður, the Appellate Court’s decision is a mixed result.

“I’m pleased that the appeals court decided to drop the two most serious charges, and I’m very pleased to see that they take a strong stance with the constitutional right to protest. The ruling concerning the right to protest sends a clear message and I hope it serves as a precedent for other cases where protesters are prosecuted,” she told the Grapevine. “On the other hand, I am of course still being dragged down by the reality that we still have the two years suspended hanging over us after waiting 18 months to go to appeals court, and by the reality that we have a large amount of legal fees to pay.”

They have not yet planned what their next steps will be. That said, there is a legal fund which the general public are encouraged to contribute to in order to cover these costs.

You can read more about how the police, courts, and prosecutor’s office of Iceland severely curtail the rights of protestors, sometimes in contravention of the constitution and human rights law, in our latest feature.

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