From Iceland — Police Officer's Social Media Posts Raise Questions About Public Trust

Police Officer’s Social Media Posts Raise Questions About Public Trust

Published November 2, 2021

Photo by
Screenshot/Mbl.is/Eggert

A Reykjavík area police officer is back in the news after posting, and then later deleting, on Facebook a number of statuses about survivors of sexual violence that have drawn criticism, and also raised questions regarding the limitations of freedom of expression and public trust in the police.

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The posts in question are from one Aníta Rut Harðardóttir, a duty officer for the Capital Area Police, who was last in the news in October 2020 when a press photo from three years previous of her wearing flags on her uniform raised concerns. These included an Icelandic version of the “thin blue line” flag and, more troubling, the Vinland Flag, a flag first popularised by the band Type O Negative but later appropriated by white supremacist hate groups in recent years.

Police issued a statement saying they did not “support hate speech or symbols that promote it”, and that there are clear rules about what may and may not be worn on a uniform.

The matter did not end there, apparently, as Aníta posted a photo on her Facebook a month later with the status “these innocent and so controversial patches are now framed and up on the wall,” showing that she had done exactly that.

Other Facebook posts of hers include her sharing a story about Þórhildur Gyða Arnarsdóttir, who had come forward recently about the assault she reportedly was subjected to by a KSÍ footballer. The article was shared with the status “Drunkwhilepartying.is”.

This and many other posts ridiculing survivors of sexual violence and their allies were later deleted, but Lenya Rún Taha Karim, a deputy MP for the Pirate Party, has sent a request to the Capital Area police asking if they approve of this behaviour and if not, how they will choose to respond.

“This concerns first and foremost that she has expressed her opinions categorically on named survivors of sexual violence, which I find very inappropriate in itself,” Lenya told reporters. “People seek the help of the police at their worst moments, survivors of sexual violence and other crimes, and their work must be conducted based on professionalism and neutrality.”

While everyone in Iceland has freedom of expression, this is not without limitations. Capital area chief of police Halla Bergþóra Björnsdóttir pointed out to RÚV that the European Court of Human Rights has established that there are limits to free speech for some public workers due to the nature of the job.

“The logic for limits of free expression for us is that we have to have the trust of the public,” she said. “The public needs to trust that we will fulfill our duties with neutrality.”

Whether and how the capital area police will respond to this particular situation remains to be seen.

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